Is Amazon deforestation decreasing the number of thunderstorms over South America?

Raam Bekenshtein, Colin Price*, Eugene Mareev

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lightning activity has been predicted to increase with global warming, though estimates of lightning sensitivity to a change of temperature vary widely. Since lightning is a small-scale process, it must be represented by parametrizations in climate models. This article uses large-scale meteorological parameters tied to thunderstorm generation to improve existing empirical models that simulate regional thunderstorm behaviour. The response of the number of thunderstorms (as presented here) to climate change is rarely analysed in global studies. This study focuses on Tropical America, and uses the ERA5 higher-resolution reanalysis data (ERA5) to develop our empirical model. Thunderstorm data were taken from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) and processed using the clustering algorithm developed by Mezuman et al. (2014). The two meteorological parameters that correlated best with thunderstorm clusters in Tropical America were specific humidity (SH) and convective available potential energy (CAPE). The resulting empirical model was run from 1979 to 2019 using ERA5 reanalysis data as input. This approach approximates the long-term trends in the behaviour of thunderstorms in the regions, in the absence of a complete historical lightning record. To our surprise, Tropical American thunderstorms exhibited a negative trend over this period, with an 8% decrease in thunderstorm clusters since the 1980s even with a rise of 1 K in temperature over the same period. The regions of largest decreases in thunderstorm activity align well with estimates of deforestation. We estimate that for every 1 Tg C lost due to deforestation, there is a 10% decrease in thunderstorm number.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2514-2526
Number of pages13
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number755
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • Amazon
  • climate change
  • deforestation
  • lightning
  • thunderstorms


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