Lightning-Prone States

Posted in Weather - Miscellaneous at 8:00 am by Rebekah

My specific research topic in meteorology is storm electrification and lightning. Lightning both fascinates and scares me. So when I was checking out The Weather Channel’s web page last night, a certain article caught my eye: “Lightning-Prone States“.

I knew that Florida was the lightning capital of the U.S., but what other states are on the list?

Here are the top five lightning-prone states, based on the average annual number (from 1996 – 2008) of cloud-to-ground lightning flashes per square mile.

  1. Florida – 25.3 strikes per square mile
  2. Louisiana – 20.3 strikes per square mile
  3. Mississippi – 18.0 strikes per square mile
  4. Alabama – 15.9 strikes per square mile
  5. South Carolina / Oklahoma – 14.6 strikes per square mile

There are really no surprises there; they’re all in the Southeast, with the exception of Oklahoma, which gets plenty of Southern Plains thunderstorm action in Tornado Alley.

What about the bottom of the lower 48?

My home state of Washington wins that award, with just 0.3 lightning strikes per square mile. (And THAT, folks, is the single biggest reason I decided to go to the University of Oklahoma for graduate school; I wanted to see more frequent, powerful thunderstorms in person.) The article from The Weather Channel also says that Washington gets only 1% to 2% of the number of lightning strikes per year that Florida gets. Furthermore, since 1959, Washington has had the lowest number of fatalities (five) due to lightning.

The other four states in the bottom five are Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California.

The U.S. on average see 25 million lightning strikes per year, with a 30-year (1980 – 2009) average of 57 fatalities attributed to lightning each year (tied with tornadoes and second only to flooding). Here’s a National Weather Service page with statistics on the 10-year and 30-year average annual number of weather-related deaths.

Speaking of lightning, it was unseasonably warm here yesterday and later today we’re expecting a cold front that could assist in the development of some thunderstorms (and there could be more early next week). Bring on the rain!

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  1. Caitlin said,

    March 18, 2011 at 8:44 am

    wow, that’s pretty interesting! I’ve always thought it seems like we get awfully few thunderstorms, even in the eastern side of the state, but I didn’t realize we have the lowest number in the US!

  2. Rebekah said,

    March 18, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Yeah I had no idea about Washington being last on the list, either, but am not too surprised. 🙂