At least 54 killed in thunderstorms across Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, MP 

Storms and lightning strikes across several states have killed at least 54 people since Monday, disaster management officials said on Tuesday, taking the toll from freak weather this month to around 290.

Lightning, which is associated with thunderstorms, accounted for 2,641 deaths in 2015, about one-fourth of total deaths in India due to natural disasters that year, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report on accidental deaths.

Mrutyunjay Mahapatra, a senior climate scientist with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), said the frequency of thunderstorms and lightning strikes appears to have increased this year because of a number of factors.

“The long dry spell and hot weather conditions increasing the surface temperature combined with unusually high western disturbances and cyclonic activity have contributed to this,” he said, adding that thunderstorms in this season were not unusual.

In three major thunderstorms and lightning strikes reported on May 4, May 16 and May 28, mostly in north-western India, the combined death toll was 290. Of these, 54 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours —17 from Uttar Pradesh, 19 from Bihar, 12 from Jharkhand, two from West Bengal and four from Madhya Pradesh. According to the information released by the UP state government, six people died and three were injured in Unnao when two houses collapsed in thunderstorms. Three people died in Rae Bareli while two deaths each were reported from Kanpur City, Pilibhit, Gonda and Sitapur. In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, most of the deaths were reported from the Bundelkhand region.

In Bihar, Gaya and Aurangabad districts reported five deaths each, while four died in Munger, three in Katihar and two in Nawada, said Bihar Disaster Management Department (DMD) officials. Jharkhand, which has seen 29 thunderstorm-related deaths this month, including 12 overnight, is expected to receive more storms in the coming days.

The weather department has predicted storms and lightning till mid-June. Patna-based IMD official Anand Shanker said easterly winds during the day had carried moisture from the Bay of Bengal after a trough developed over the region from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar.

Jharkhand’s special secretary, disaster management, Ashok Kumar, said the only way to prevent lightning deaths was through an alert system. “We take weather information from India Meteorological Department and Skymet. As soon as we get any information, respective DCs (district commissioners) are immediately informed…” Kumar said.

Mahapatra said it was difficult to predict the specific location of a thunderstorm much in advance and advised states to create public awareness about dos and don’ts in case of lightning strikes.

(With inputs from HTC Lucknow, Ranchi, Bhopal and Patna)