Storms much less common than thought

Thursday 14th Apr 2011 by theWeather Club

It seems that the world is not quite the violent, carnage ridden, danger zone that we have been led to believe. At least in a meteorological sense anyway. The European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna has published new research suggesting that the Earth sees about 760 thunderstorms every hour. This is less than half the number that has been widely accepted for decades.

The new research uses a worldwide network of monitoring stations that detect major bolts of lightning. "The monitoring stations might miss some bolts of lightning, but we think we're getting the big ones - and that's enough to tell you where the thunderstorms are," said Dr. Colin Price, head of the Geophysics and Planetary Sciences department at Tel Aviv University in Israel. "And so with this global network we're able to improve on numbers that have been in standard use since the 1920s."

In 1925 Charles Ernest Pelham Brooks, of the Meteorological Office made what was probably the first attempt to calculate the number of thunderstorms taking place across the globe at any one time. At that time weather stations recorded days when thunderstorms occurred nearby. Analysing these records, Brooks calculated there were around 1,800 storms per hour on average across the world. And this figure has been in general use ever since. However Brooks' research suffered from incomplete data and mistaken assumptions such as a belief that storms were equally distributed over land and sea, whereas the vast majority actually occur over land.

The new research uses a completely different technique. It uses data from over 40 stations around the world geared up to detect electromagnetic pulses produced by strong lightning bolts. Triangulating from groups of stations allows the World Wide Lightning Location Network (http://webflash.ess.washington.edu) to pinpoint flashes. When they are clustered, a computer algorithm is deployed to assign a flash to its parent storm. Analysing this data for September 2010 produced the average hourly figure of 760.

So, where is the place most often battered by atmospheric sledgehammers? The answer came as somewhat of a surprise: the Congo Basin in central Africa. "That's perhaps because it's drier there than in the Amazon, for example - thunderstorms seem to form more easily in drier conditions," Dr Price told the BBC.

So it seems the world is a much calmer, gentler, more peaceful place than we have been led to believe. Unless of course you live in the Congo Basin, when the thought that there has to be somewhere less stormy to live your life is absolutely right.