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World Lightning Map


Lightning is not uniformly distributed across the Earth.


world lightning map
lightning flash scale
The map above shows the average yearly counts of lightning flashes per square kilometer based on data collected by NASA's Lightning Imaging Sensor on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite between 1995 and 2002. Places where less than 1 flash occurred (on average) each year are gray or light purple. The places with the largest number of lightning strikes are deep red grading to black. Enlarge.


What is Lightning?



Lightning is a sudden high-voltage discharge of electricity that occurs within a cloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. Globally, there are about 40 to 50 flashes of lightning every second or nearly 1.4 billion flashes per year. These electrical discharges are powerful and deadly.

Each year lightning strikes kill people, livestock, and wildlife. Each year lightning is responsible for billions of dollars in damage to buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical equipment. Lightning also costs airlines billions of dollars per year in flight rerouting and delays. For these reasons maps that show the distribution of lightning across the Earth are important for economic, environmental, and safety reasons.


Mapping the World’s Lightning Activity



The distribution of lightning on Earth is far from uniform. The ideal conditions for producing lightning and associated thunderstorms occur where warm, moist air rises and mixes with cold air above. These conditions occur almost daily in many parts of the Earth and rarely in other areas.

NASA has satellites orbiting the earth with sensors designed to detect lightning. Data from these satellites is transmitted to earth where a record of geographic frequency is being constructed. The maps on this page are based upon the average yearly count of lightning flashes per unit of area. That data was plotted geographically to create the maps.

Much more lightning occurs over land than over the ocean because daily sunshine heats the land surface faster than the ocean. The heated land surface warms the air above it, and that warm air rises to encounter cold air aloft. The interaction between air masses of different temperature stimulates thunderstorms and lightning.

The maps also show that more lightning occurs near the equator than at the poles. The poles have very little lightning because their white snow- and ice-covered surfaces are not effectively warmed by the sun to produce convection. There is also very little moisture in polar air. These factors almost eliminate the possibility of lightning production near the poles.


Where Does the Most Lightning Occur?



Several areas on Earth experience an unusual amount of lightning. Six of these areas are listed below along with the reasons for their unusual levels of lightning activity.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa has the highest frequency of lightning on Earth. There year-round thunderstorms are caused by local convection and moisture-laden air masses from the Atlantic Ocean encountering mountains as they move across the continent.

  • Northwestern South America where warm winds from the Pacific Ocean carry moisture-laden air masses up the Andes Mountains, causing cooling and thunderstorm activity.

  • The Himalayan Forelands where seasonal winds carry warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean up the front of the mountain range causing cooling and thunderstorm activity.

  • Central Florida between Tampa and Orlando is known as "lightning alley". There warm, rising air pulls in sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

  • The Pampas of Argentina where moist seasonal winds off the Atlantic Ocean in summer and spring produce violent thunderstorms.

  • Indonesia where winds from the Indian Ocean push warm, moist air up the volcanic mountain ranges of Java and Sumatra to produce thunderstorms.

Where Does the Least Lightning Occur?



Lightning has its lowest frequency in polar regions and over the oceans. These areas do not experience the strong surface heating and rising air masses needed to trigger thunderstorms and lightning.


Lightning in the United States



Lightning is the second highest storm-related killer in the United States. It causes several billion dollars in property damage each year and kills several dozen people. It is a frequent cause of wildfires and costs airlines billions of dollars per year in extra operating expenses.

Florida has the highest frequency of lightning in the United States. There, sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico converge over solar-heated land. This lifts the moist air masses that host thunderstorms. Florida is also the state with the highest number of deaths from lightning strikes. Other states along the Gulf of Mexico coast such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have frequent lightning. Along the Atlantic coast, South Carolina and North Carolina have frequent lightning.


Why Is Lightning Mapping Important?



Lightning maps, lightning tracking and lightning databases have many practical and academic uses. According to NASA's Lightning and Atmospheric Electricity Research Center they are used as part of the activities below and much more:
  • Severe storm detection and warning.
  • Convective rainfall estimation.
  • Storm tracking.
  • Predicting aviation hazards.
  • Warnings to power companies, fuel depots, golf courses, etc.
  • Forest fire forecasting.
  • Predicting cyclone development.
  • Understanding of the physics of the Global Electric Circuit.
  • Understanding the magnetosphere and the ionosphere.
  • NOx generation studies.
  • Studies of whistler and other wave propagation phenomena.
  • Magnetospheric-ionospheric research.
  • Solar-tropospheric studies.
For more information about lightning and lightning mapping visit NASA's Lightning and Atmospheric Electricity Research Center.

This page last updated: April 9, 2015.

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Global Lightning Activity Map 2015
A portion of the Global Lightning Activity Map produced by NASA in 2015 using data collected between 1998 and 2013 by the Lightning Imaging Sensor on NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite. Enlarge.




lightning photograph
A night-time photograph of multiple cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lightning strokes. Image by NOAA.


electrical charges in storm clouds that produce lightning
A model of electrical charge distribution within a storm cloud. The segregation of charge contributes to the formation of lightning and causes it to flash from one location to another. Learn more about lightning at NOAA. NOAA image.


electrical charges in storm clouds that produce lightning
A map of total lightning fatalities in the United States between 1959 and 2013. With 471 deaths, Florida has more than double the number of fatalities as any other state. Image from NOAA Media Resources.


Staying Safe From Lightning


Most people killed by lightning are outside. Most of them would still be alive if they had gone indoors at the first sign of possible lightning. Remember this saying: "When thunder roars, go indoors." That is the most important rule to obey to avoid death or injury from lightning. For more information visit NOAA's lightning safety website.


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