24 killed in western India due to lightning and hail

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India recorded more than 18 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021

At least 24 people have died due to lightning and heavy rain and hail in India, officials said.

Houses were damaged and livestock died due to the weather across the western state of Gujarat.

Storms are uncommon in Gujarat during winter, meteorologists said, and the heavy rainfall caught many off guard.

Flash floods and lightning strikes kill thousands of people in India every year. Rising global temperatures are fueling a surge in extreme weather events, scientists warn.

Rising land and sea surface temperatures warm the air above and more energy is available to drive thunderstorms away from the point where lightning strikes.

Rain and hail were expected to continue over western India on Monday.

At least 18 of the 24 deaths were attributed to lightning strikes, officials said in a statement late Sunday.

Heavy rain and hailstorms lashed Gujarat state on Sunday and Monday, with some areas receiving 144 mm (5.7 inches) of rain in 24 hours, Reuters news agency reported, citing state government data.

Manorama Mohanty, head of the India Meteorological Department in Ahmedabad, said the lightning strikes were caused by the collision of three weather systems in Gujarat.

“These are easterly winds from the Arabian Sea, a western disturbance over the western Himalayas and a cyclonic circulation over south Gujarat,” Ms Mohanty told BBC Gujarati.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said he was deeply saddened by the loss of life and that local authorities were engaged in relief efforts.

A 42-year-old farmer, Yogesh Patel, died in his farm after lightning struck a tree sheltering from heavy rains.

His close family friend Shantilal Patel told the BBC Mr Patel is survived by his three children and a wife.

“He was in the garden under a tree and lightning struck him. On seeing his body, he died on the spot as his mobile phone in his left shirt pocket exploded due to lightning,” he said.

In India, more than 100,000 people were killed by lightning strikes between 1967 and 2019, according to official data. This accounts for more than one-third of all deaths due to natural hazards during this period.

India recorded more than 18 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021, according to a study by the non-profit Climate Resilient Observing Systems Development Council. This is 34% higher than the same period last year.

Additional reporting by BBC Gujarati’s Dakshesh Shah and Roxy Kagtekar Sara

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