New Data: Oklahoma (barely) leads Florida in lightning density

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 6:16 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Lightning is something those in the Big Bend and South Georgia deal with - especially in the summer months. The warm-season afternoon sea breeze boundary and outflow boundaries from decaying thunderstorms are the main culprits.

With respect to lightning frequency, Florida has been known as the leader in the United States. New data from Vaisala, a company that tracks lightning across the globe with its own network, may change that perception. Maybe.

The recently-released data show that Oklahoma leads Florida with 83.4 lightning events per square kilometer per year between 2016 and 2020. Florida’s lightning events count was 82.8 per square kilometer per year.

Lightning events included “all in-cloud pulses [and] cloud-to-ground strokes” detected by their national and global lightning detection networks, according to Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist and lightning applications manager at Vaisala.

The lightning leader in the viewing area is Lafayette County with just over 94 lightning events per square kilometer a year, according to the data. Taylor County comes second, with Leon County in third place. The lowest lightning event density in the viewing area was Franklin County. One reason for the lower number could be that sea breeze thunderstorms develop and move farther inland away from the coastal county.

The reason for the somewhat similar lightning densities in different locations is likely with the mode of thunderstorm development, according to Vagasky. The lightning in Florida was spawned by sea breeze boundaries, but thunderstorms in Oklahoma “are more of the organized storm complexes and supercells.”

There is also a difference of what type of lightning - cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud - were in abundance during the four-year period of lightning data. Florida is more cloud-to-ground while Oklahoma is more cloud-to-cloud, Vagasky said.

Florida could still keep some claim to fame - at least for 2020. Their report showed that the lightning frequency for that year in Florida was 75.1 per square kilometer, which outpaces Oklahoma’s 69.7 per square kilometer.

As the clock ticks closer to the thunderstorm season in the Big Bend and South Georgia, there is at least one thing to remember. If thunder is heard, it means that one is close enough to get struck by lightning. If thunder roars, go indoors.

The interactive map from Vaisala can be found by clicking here.

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