How climate change can lead to more lightning strikes, wildfires

As climate change intensifies, more lightning strikes in the western U.S. should lead to even more wildfires.
As climate change intensifies, more lightning strikes in the western U.S. should lead to even more wildfires. Photo credit David McNew/ Getty Images
By , KCBS Radio

As climate change intensifies, more lightning strikes in the western U.S. should lead to even more wildfires.

UC Berkeley researchers said the increases could have a dramatic impact on California.

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California had more than 15,000 lighting strikes in three days last August, causing 600 fires and two catastrophic wildfires in the North and South Bay.

David Romps, Director of UC Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, told KCBS Radio that could start becoming the norm in California, and he blamed climate change.

"As we continue to burn fossil fuels, putting this heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it warms the planet and that warming the planet puts more water vapor into the atmosphere, which makes storms more powerful," Romps explained. "As storms become more powerful, they generate more lighting."

His research pointed to a greater number of wildfires.

"Lightning is an important trigger for a wildfire and, in fact, is responsible for about half of the wildfire area burned in the United States," Romps said. "And lightning is responsible for the majority of wildfire area burned in the west."

Santa Rosa Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said fire agencies are prepared.

"We now heavily staff up for Red Flag Warning events, which the last few have been as a result of lightning and wind," Lowenthal told KCBS Radio.

Romps said he expects lightning strikes to grow 50% by century’s end.

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