HAVE THUNDERSTORMS BEEN MORE ELECTRIFIED THIS YEAR?
So far, 2009 has been a deadly year for lightning strikes. Two people were killed last week, and another Monday, bringing the total number of lightning-related deaths to seven, with 50 injuries reported total. A Southwest Airlines plane was struck by lightning in California earlier last week. Is this trend of lightning strikes on people and airplanes abnormal this year?
On average, 60 people are killed and over 350 people are injured by lightning each year, with June, July and August the most common months for deaths. In 2008, 27 people were killed by lightning and 303 injured.
As for aircraft, 66 have reported lightning strikes so far this year. Last year, 55 reported lightning strikes to airplanes occurred through May.
The number of deaths and the number of airplanes hit does not seem out of the ordinary this year. Actually, the number of lightning flashes is considerably less than what was reported this time last year. As of June 3, 2009, there have been 5,589,686 flashes, with 6,517,381 reported by June 3, 2008.
One of the reasons for this could be colder-than-normal weather across the northern tier of the country that has suppressed the number of thunderstorms and has significantly reduced the number of tornadoes this year. The number of reported tornadoes so far this year is 685, just over half of the average annual amount, which is 1,297.
According to Long Range Expert Joe Bastardi, areas from the northern Plains into the Northeast will have a "year without a summer." The jet stream, which is suppressed abnormally south this spring, is also suppressing the number of thunderstorms that can form. The ones that do form in areas of the Ohio Valley and West are forming in places with very cold temperatures, which can lead to more electrified thunderstorms than normal this year.