Lightning strikes have killed 147 people in 10 days in northern India during the annual monsoon rains, with Bihar being the worst hit as this year's toll in the state already surpassed the total deaths recorded annually over the past years. Authorities urged citizens to pay attention to weather warnings, remain indoors during thunderstorms, and avoid taking shelter under trees and getting near bodies of water.
Lightning strikes during the yearly monsoon season from June to September are fairly common in India. However, this year's toll in Bihar has already exceeded the total number of fatalities recorded annually for the state over the past few years, even though the monsoon season has just begun.
Last year, 170 people died during the monsoon period. Meanwhile, since March this year, there are already 215 fatalities from strikes in the country's poorest state.
In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, more than 200 people have been killed by lightning since April.
Bihar agrometeorologist Abdus Sattar told AFP that thunderstorms in the region have been caused by large-scale instability in the atmosphere, driven by excessive moisture and temperature rises.
While the monsoon is vital to replenishing water supplies in India and South Asia, it also causes widespread destruction and fatalities each year.
Most of those killed lived in rural areas and were sheltering under trees when lightning struck. Rainy conditions also tend to entice farmers to plant more on their fields, leading to more people being exposed outside.
"Because of good rainfall this year in June, farmers are out in the field farming," Sunitha Devi, member of the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ thunderstorm working group, told the Hindustan Times.
"Paddy field water also attracts electricity and farmers on the field act as conductors of electricity from the thunderstorm."
State authorities said they have introduced a mobile phone app that will help predict possible lightning strikes, but many poor farmers do not own smartphones, AFP noted.
Authorities advised people to follow weather warnings and remain indoors in the event of thunderstorms. An advisory printed in all local newspapers said people should avoid bodies of water and avoid taking shelter under trees.
"We humbly appeal to farmers to take extra precautions and stay indoors during rough weather to escape disaster," said Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar.
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