See kids, science is cool. A new study is out linking the number of lightning strikes and solar winds. The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, looked at the pattern of solar winds and thunderstorm activity after they impacted Earth.
Looking at Europe, they found an increase in lightning rates across the continent for up to forty days after the winds, which can travel at millions of miles per hour, hit Earth’s atmosphere. The hope of researchers, is that long-range forecasts can be based off the solar wind activity.
Research showed that the peak lightning activity occurred within a 12 to 18 day period after the winds hit. With the ability to track solar winds, forecasters may get the upper hand on predicting severe weather outbreaks weeks in advance. Researchers are quick to admit they don’t understand the exact mechanism, but the prevailing theory is that electrical properties of the air get altered by the incoming charged particles of the solar winds.
Chris Scott, lead author of the study, released a statement. “Our main result is that we have found evidence that high-speed solar wind streams can increase lightning rates. This may be an actual increase in lightning or an increase in the magnitude of lightning, lifting it above the detection threshold of measurement instruments.”
“Cosmic rays, tiny particles from across the Universe accelerated to close to the speed of light by exploding stars, have been thought to play a part in thundery weather down on Earth, but our work provides new evidence that similar, if lower energy, particles created by our own Sun also affect lightning.”
With lightning strikes killing around 24,000 people per year, the study could prove vital in increasing the accuracy of long-range forecasts. The streams of solar winds can be monitored by spacecraft, giving forecasters on the ground weeks of advance warning.
If forecasters could increase their accuracy around severe weather outbreaks from days to weeks, it could provide communities the upper hand they need in preparation. Here’s hoping that meteorologists are able to use the data to save even more lives.