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Disaster Management

Lightning kills 18 elephants in Assam – Is it scientifically possible?

Lightning kills 18 elephants in Assam – Is it scientifically possible?


  • GS 3 || Disaster Management || Major Disasters || Others

Why in the news?

18 elephants died on a hilltop in Assam.

Present context:

The preliminary post-mortem report indicates they had been struck by lightning. While the state government is waiting for the final report before definitely ruling out other possible causes, the preliminary conclusion raises a question: Can a single flash of lightning kill 18 elephants?

Lightning as Natural disaster

What is lightning?

  • Lightning is an electrical discharge that occurs when there is an imbalance between storm clouds and the ground, or inside the clouds themselves. The majority of lightning happens within clouds.
  • Lightning is incredibly hot—a single flash can raise the temperature of the air surrounding it to five times that of the sun’s surface. The heat causes the surrounding air to expand and vibrate rapidly, resulting in the pealing thunder we hear a short time after seeing a lightning flash.

How lightning occur?

  • As a thunderstorm develops, the air current travels upward and the water droplets travel downward. Positive charges accumulate above the cloud’s edge, while negative charges accumulate near the cloud’s lower edge as a result of this movement.
  • Positive charges are accumulating in the field over the vegetation in general.
  • Despite the fact that air is a weak medium for transmitting electricity, the accumulation became so high that air could no longer resist the flow. When negative and positive charges collide, bright light and sound are generated. The phenomenon is known as lightning, and the mechanism is known as electric discharging.
  • 10% of lightning happens while there are no clouds.

How does this current reach the Earth from the cloud?

  • The Earth is electrically neutral, despite being a fine conductor of electricity. However, as compared to the cloud’s middle layer, it becomes positively charged.
  • As a result, about 15 percent to 20% of the current is also directed towards the Earth. Harm to life and property on Earth is caused by this current flow.
  • Lightning has a higher chance of hitting tall objects like trees, poles, or homes. Lightning appears to change direction towards these taller objects until it is about 80-100 meters away from the earth.
  • This occurs because air is a weak conductor of electricity, and electrons passing through it seek a better conductor as well as the shortest path to the relativelypositively charged Earth’s surface.

Lightning death reports:

  • According to the Climate-resilient observation systems promotion council (CROPC), Orissa has had the highest lighting strike.
  • More than half of all lightning deaths occur in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, and Jharkhand, with 96 percent of deaths occurring in rural India.

How lightning kills animals?

  • Direct Flash: An animal in an open field is also stricken directly by lightning if a part of its body protrudes over different objects within the neighborhood. Taller animals are more vulnerable.
  • Side Flash: Once lightning strikes a tall object like a tree, it should generate an aspect flash which will strike an animal standing beneath the tree.
  • Touch Potential: If one part of a tall animal’s body is to bear with the bottom whereas another part, at a better elevation, comes to bear with a lightning-struck object, a partial current might submit to its body.
  • Step Potential: the foremost common lightning hazard among four-legged animals. Once an animal’s front and hind feet are way enough apart, a partial current might pass through the body in sure circumstances.

Lightning safety:

  • Lightning is a tragedy that kills over 2000 people in India each year. It can be avoided because the Indian metrological department can forecast 30-40 minutes ahead of time.
  • The following are not a safer place:
    • House and building is a safer place
    • No open space is safe.
    • Hearing thunder is an indicative alert to reach a safer place.
    • Open vehicle Like Bike, tractor, open car, etc.
    • Elevated place
    • Inside a car with closed windows is a safer place.
    • Open field, tall tree, Park shelter.

Preventive measures:

  • Mapping of lightning-affected areas based on the availability of data on fatalities and injuries, as well as data on lightning strikes
  • Data sharing between agencies for the preparation of a mitigation plan
  • A warning device for lightning strikes that would alert people of an imminent disaster.
  • Lightning shields and other structural security measures for buildings and other structures.
  • Encourage the use of lightning arresters and Doppler radars.
  • Raising awareness and education on how to safely respond to lightning storms.
  • Effective use of social media to disseminate the alerts.


Lightning is a dangerous weather event that may lead to catastrophe if precautions are not taken. A combination of public awareness and technological efforts, such as the invention of an app called Vajrapath that can predict where lightning will strike based on an examination of electromagnetic waves, will go a long way toward reducing lightning-related deaths and injuries.

Mains oriented question:

Natural disaster are never under control of technologies, lightning is one natural disaster. What is lightning? How it occurs what are the precautionary measures that should be taken to avoid causalities? (150 words)