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Prominent news outlet rushes to connect fatal lightning strike outside White House to climate change

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After lightning struck outside the White House — resulting in the deaths of three people — Reuters published a story connecting the incident to climate change.

What is the background?

Four people were seriously injured last Thursday when lightning struck them in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House.

Unfortunately, three of the four people died. Those who died included a Wisconsin couple who were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary, according to the Washington Post, and a 29-year-old from Los Angeles.

What did Reuters report?

The fatal lightning strike is a "climate warning," according to Reuters.

Reuters reported:

Scientists say that climate change is increasing the likelihood of lightning strikes across the United States, after lightning struck at a square near the White House, leaving three people dead and one other in critical condition.

The hot, humid conditions in Washington, D.C., on Thursday were primed for electricity. Air temperatures topped out at 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) – or 5F (3C) higher than the 30-year normal maximum temperature for Aug. 4, according to the National Weather Service. More heat can draw more moisture into the atmosphere, while also encouraging rapid updraft – two key factors for charged particles, which lead to lightning.

The news outlet, however, did not cite any actual scientists.

The only data cited was a 2014 study published in a science journal that claimed the frequency of lightning increases as the global temperature increases.

Scientists, however, believe that lightning has existed for billions of years — at least. One thus wonders how lightning is connected to climate change if it has always existed on Earth, or how frequency of lightning can be evidence of climate change when lightning has not been tracked for most of Earth's history.

Anything else?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being struck by lightning is incredibly rare. The odds of being struck, the CDC says, are less than 1 in 1 million in any given year.

Dying from a lightning strike is even more rare: Only about 10% of those struck between 2006 and 2021 died.

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