BERKELEY (CBS SF) – A team of U.C. Berkeley climate researchers say models of future cloud behavior suggest a big jump in United States lightning strikes this century.

In the most recent edition of the journal Science, scientist David Romps studied 11 climate models and concluded that warmer temperatures would lead to the increased lightning activity.

“With warming, thunderstorms become more explosive,” said Romps, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science. “This has to do with water vapor, which is the fuel for explosive deep convection in the atmosphere. Warming causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, and if you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time.”

According to a UC Berkeley report on the publication, “Romps and graduate student Jacob Seeley hypothesized that two atmospheric properties — precipitation and cloud buoyancy — together might be a predictor of lightning, and looked at observations during 2011 to see if there was a correlation.”

They concluded that 77 percent of the variations in lightning strikes could be predicted by monitoring those two factors.

Projecting forward, they said a projected 4 degree Celsius rise (7 degree Fahrenheit) in global temperature by 2100 will create the added bouncy energy to spike the number of lightning strikes 50 percent.

The calculation “assumes carbon dioxide emissions keep rising consistent” with current rates.

Researchers point out that half of all wildfires are caused by lightning. If the research is correct, that number could rise going forward.

Read more on the story from U.C. Berkeley.

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