Lightning Caused By Solar Wind?

lightning over london

In a study released today in the Environmental Research Letters, the meteorology department at the University of Reading report that they have found a link between increased lightning activity here on Earth and the periodic emission of the solar winds. It has been believed by scientists for some time now that streams of high-energy particles coming from things like cosmic rays and other highly charged particles can have an adverse effect on the Earth’s weather, so researchers, including lead author Dr. Chris Scott, decided to seek proof.

Along with fellow author Professor Giles Harrison, the head of the Meteorology department at Reading, the team of scientists uncovered data that proved lightning and thunderstorms increase substantially whenever the solar wind makes its way into our atmosphere along with other cosmic particles.

The team of researchers used data obtained from the UK Met Office between 2000 and 2005 in an radius of 500 kilometers from central England. An average of 321 lightning strikes occurred during the 40 days before a solar wind arrived, while afterwards the average boosted to 422.

The solar wind has both slow and fast streams, and sometimes these streams can collide with one another, causing an increased speed and intensity. Such winds are the most likely to produce substantial weather changes.

The researchers were surprised by this finding because normally the Earth is naturally shielded from very high-energy cosmic rays, such as those generated when a supernova explodes and forces high-energy particles our way accelerated up to the speed of light. They had expected that the presence of the solar wind would serve as a shield to protect the planet from such rays, but instead they discovered some slower particles in the wind that actually encouraged the rays to wreak havoc.

Scott was quoted as saying, “As the Sun rotates every 27 days these high-speed streams of particles wash past our planet with predictable regularity. Such information could prove useful when producing long-range weather forecasts.”
Knowing when these storms might occur could make a great difference since every year thousands of people are struck by lightning. An advanced knowledge of such storms could help lower that number.

Lightning can strike any person at any time, and most people who are hit never thought it would happen to them. Here is one lightning strike victim’s recent story, which she thankfully survived to tell.