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Fewer lightning strikes, but Maharashtra records more deaths than other states: IITM scientist

Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology Scientist Sunil Pawar attributed this to topography and timing of the thunderbolts

By: Express News Service | Pune |
Updated: October 23, 2021 1:19:17 pm
In India, the highest lightning strikes are reported over Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the northeastern states. (Representational Photo)

Despite fewer strikes in a year, the mortality due to lightning in Maharashtra is much higher than the most lightning-prone areas in India, according to a scientist who studies lightning at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. Sunil Pawar was speaking at a lecture organised by the Ministry of Earth Sciences on Friday as part of the ongoing Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav campaign.

In India, the highest lightning strikes are reported over Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and the northeastern states. But deaths are relatively fewer in the northeast, Pawar noted. “This is mainly due to the topography, that is, along the hilly regions the lightning strikes get trapped and do not hit the land, and thereby fewer people are affected,” he said, adding that increasing events of lightning strikes have been observed over India in recent years as revealed by satellite data since 1995.

Like Maharashtra, fatalities over Odisha and West Bengal are also high. Though the number of deaths due to lightning strikes has been declining over the years, lightning remains one of the major single-event natural disasters killing over 2,000 people in India, annually.

Besides topography, the higher number of deaths in Maharashtra could also be linked to the timing of lightning strikes over the region, he said. Lightning events are most common during the April-June pre-monsoon season and in October during the seasonal transition. Most of the casualties are reported among the farming community.

“Along the Himalayan foothills, in the east and northeast regions, lightning activity commences during late evening hours or post 7 pm. By this time, most farm labourers are at home. On the contrary, the lightning events in Maharashtra commence during the afternoon, around 2 pm, when there is still the outdoor presence of such labourers, who are thus more prone to suffer casualties,” he explained.

Data on the deaths, Pawar said, indicated that 86 per cent of the cases in Maharashtra were of farmers and farm labourers, whereas in Bihar it was about 75 per cent. In all other states, these numbers were lower. In Maharashtra, lightning-related accidents are common in Marathwada and Vidarbha where there are vast open lands and farms – making farmers more vulnerable – than western Maharashtra.

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“During our studies, we toured these two sub-divisions extensively, held awareness campaigns and placed signboards warning them about lightning. The only way to avoid lightning accidents is to increase awareness and take precautionary measures,” the IITM scientist said.

Experts also suggest staying indoors during thunder and lightning events, taking shelter away from tall objects like trees, lying flat on the ground or staying inside a car or bus, besides installing lightning arresters on buildings. Pawar added that one must avoid staying outdoors in open areas or fields at such times.

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