Poster Session P2.54 Lightning fatalities in tropical and subtropical regions

Thursday, 13 May 2010
Arizona Ballroom 7 (JW MArriott Starr Pass Resort)
Ronald L. Holle, Holle Meteorology & Photography, Oro Valley, AZ

Handout (135.5 kB)

The number of lightning fatalities has decreased by an order of magnitude in some countries during the last few decades, but not others. In more developed areas, people live and work in grounded buildings, are often near fully-enclosed metal-topped vehicles, and relatively few people work outside in labor-intensive agriculture. In contrast, people in many countries of the world, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, continue to subsist on labor-intensive agriculture, and spend a much of the rest of their time inside unsubstantial buildings that are not safe from lightning.

In the U.S. and other more developed regions, typical lightning death rates are less than 0.6 deaths per million people per year. This rate has applied to the U.S. and other middle-latitude regions for 25 years or more. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that U.S. lightning fatalities have equaled or exceeded U.S. hurricane fatalities in 18 of the last 20 years.

In lesser-developed countries, the rate may be as high as six deaths per million per year, which is similar to the U.S. rate a century ago during some years. Using this annual rate of six lightning fatalities per million, a worldwide estimate is 24,000 lightning deaths and 240,000 lightning injuries per year.

High lightning fatality rates have been reported in some informal publications and news reports from Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. Such high rates might be expected due to frequent lightning occurrence in rural portions of those areas, and due to inadequate places for safety from lightning. Substantial numbers of deaths are often reported in specific cases from lesser-developed countries. However, there are also some very low reported rates that may be due to data collection inadequacies. The collection of lightning fatality totals over long periods is encouraged on a national basis in order to investigate the validity of these estimates.

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