Vaisala, a company that works in environmental and industrial measurement, is one of the leading companies in lightning detection across the globe. They’ve just released new data on lightning frequency. Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist serving as Vaisala’s Lightning Applications Manager, spoke with me about the new data.
Oklahoma barely edged out Florida for the most lightning events per square kilometer per year, but only by fractions of a point. Oklahoma averaged 83.4 lightning events per square kilometer per year from 2016-2020, compared to Florida’s 82.8. These states get these high lightning counts in different ways. In Oklahoma, supercell thunderstorms and large clusters of severe storms called mesoscale convective systems produce tremendous amounts of lightning, while in Florida, smaller thunderstorms form almost daily for a large part of the year as sea breeze boundaries move inland and generate storms. Vagasky says despite Oklahoma edging out Florida in total lightning count, Florida is still the king when it comes to cloud-to-ground lightning.
Vagasky says Alabama is just outside the top 10 when it comes to lightning count. We averaged 39.8 lightning events per square kilometer per year from 2016-2020. Vagasky says that Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a hotspot for lightning due to sea breeze boundary thunderstorms, and thunderstorms that move across the state tend to produce more lightning in West Alabama, and less lighting as they move further east. That trend holds true in North Alabama.
Across Southern Tennessee, Wayne county stands out with an astounding 80.7 events per square kilometer per year! That’s nearly double Lincoln county’s total! Vagasky says that may be in part due to both the same lightning trend we see in Alabama from west to east, as well as potential local influences like topography.
You can dig into the lightning data yourself for the entire globe with Vaisala’s interactive map.
Live Alert 19 is a great tool for those stormy days. It can give you lightning alerts, letting you know when it’s time to head inside as storms move in.