Scientists say the climate crisis is increasing the likelihood of lightning strikes in the United States after lightning struck a plaza near the White House, killing two people and leaving two others in critical condition.
The District of Columbia Fire Department and emergency medical services said the four people were affected in Lafayette Park, right outside the White House complex.
They were all taken to local hospitals in critical condition after passers-by provided first aid. Part of the park remained closed on Thursday evening, the emergency services were on site.
While details of the strike were limited, the Washington Post reported that it was the result of a major thunderstorm that swept through the city in the evening, unleashing high winds and severe weather.
The hot, humid conditions in the capital were prepared for electricity. According to the National Weather Service, air temperatures reached a maximum of 94F (34C), or 5F higher than the normal 30-year maximum temperature.
More heat can draw more moisture into the atmosphere, while also encouraging rapid updrafts, two factors for charged particles that lead to lightning.
A study published in 2014 in the journal Science warned that lightning strikes could increase by 50% in the US this century, with every 1.8 F of warming translating into a 12% increase in lightning strikes.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement Friday morning saying: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of life following the lightning strike in Lafayette Park. Our hearts are with the families who have lost loved ones, and we pray for those who are still fighting for their lives.”
In a separate incident on Thursday, a lightning strike in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest killed one student and injured another, officials said.
John D Murphy, 22, of Boston, died of cardiac arrest after being struck by lightning while traveling with a group from the National Outdoor Leadership School, a global nonprofit nature school.