Cloud changes linked to frequent lightning

Rajeevan Erikkulam, a meteorologist with the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), said the frequency of lightning increases in the break period during the monsoon.
Image used for representational purpose.
Image used for representational purpose.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Once confined to specific months, lightning has become a year-round occurrence in Kerala, including during the monsoon season, mainly due to shifts in cloud structure and extended dry periods.

This monsoon, lightning strikes have already claimed four lives, two each in Thrissur and Kollam, in the state.

Experts attribute the increased occurrence of lightning to the frequent presence of Cumulonimbus clouds, heavy and dense cloud of considerable vertical extent, during the monsoon.

Rajeevan Erikkulam, a meteorologist with the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), said the frequency of lightning increases in the break period during the monsoon.

The southwest monsoon this year is characterised by longer breaks interspersed with shorter active spells. Notwithstanding the prediction of an above-normal rainfall, the state has recorded a rainfall deficit so far this season.

“Earlier, Cumulonimbus clouds were seen during pre and post-monsoon periods only. Monsoon is characterised by stratus clouds. However, this structure seems to have altered in recent years,” Rajeevan said, while also highlighting recent studies, especially by the Cochin University of Science and Technology, on the presence of Cumulonimbus during monsoons. “After a longer break period, winds carrying rain-bearing clouds are expected to get stronger from June 21,” he said.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has declared an orange alert in Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur on the day. The state gets more lightning during pre-monsoon period between April and May and during the northeast monsoon season starting from October.

“Kerala is one of the major states affected by lightning though deaths due to it have declined owing to better awareness and development,” said a hazard analyst, who did not wish to be named. He said casualties of lightning strikes in Odisha and West Bengal are higher as more people work in fields.

“In Kerala, pucca houses, tall trees and fewer field activities have prevented a high number of casualties. However, construction workers, MGNREGA workers, and painters are a risk category,” he said. A study by National Centre for Earth Science Studies in 2016 said earlier, over 70 people died of lightning each year. In 2015, the Kerala government classified lightning as a state-specific disaster.

2 MGNREGA workers killed in lightning strike in Punalur

Two elderly MGNREGA women workers died after they were struck by lightning on Tuesday. The deceased have been identified as Sarojam, 55, and Rajini, 59. Both hails from Punalur taluk of Kollam district. The incident occurred around 11.45 am on a rubber plantation owned by a private individual in Maniyar ward of Punalur.

Workers had divided into two groups to clear the bush in the upper and lower sections of the plantation. Rajini and Sarojam were working in the upper area of the plantation. As the work progressed, heavy rain accompanied by thunder began. The workers in the lower section wanted to bring back Rajini and Sarojam to safety and went in search of them, but by then they had lost their lives.

Local residents informed the police, who arrived at the place and recovered the bodies.

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