Farmers in India
have been fervently awaiting this year’s monsoon season after two consecutive years of inadequate rains. But they were ill prepared for the lightning.
In what may be a record, lightning strikes that punctuated the season’s inaugural heavy rains killed nearly 100 people in India on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to reports in the Indian news media. Many were agricultural workers and shepherds in open areas with little or no protection.
The Hindustan Times reported on its website that an overnight storm with ferocious lightning flashes in eastern state of Bihar accounted for more than half the confirmed deaths.
Ten people were killed by lightning in neighboring Jharkhand State
, six in Uttar Pradesh
in the north, and another in Maharashtra
, The Associated Press quoted the police as saying.
The number of fatalities was expected to rise because of delayed reporting from remote districts.
Lightning strikes are common during the monsoon season, which lasts from June to October, but it is highly unusual for scores of people to be fatally struck in such a short time period. Farmworkers and farm animals are often hit.
The National Crime Records Bureau, which classifies lightning strikes as a cause of accidental death, reported that 2,582 people were killed in India by lightning in 2014, the most recent year for which figures were available. That made lightning the country’s leading source of death from natural calamity.
Lightning deaths in developed nations are, by contrast, extremely rare. In the United States
, there have been six fatalities attributed to lightning so far in 2016, according to the National Weather Service.
The onset of the monsoon season has prompted tempered optimism that India may be spared a third consecutive year of drought. A recent study by the Indian Meteorological Department said the country might have to expect more frequent drought years in the future, based on an assessment of countrywide rainfall over the last 150 years.