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World Lightning Map

Lightning is not uniformly distributed across the Earth. Lightning map by NASA

A map showing the distribution of lightning flashes across the Earth has important economic and safety implications. Each year lightning strikes kill many people, farm animals and wild animals. Lightning causes thousands of fires and billions of dollars in damage to buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical systems. Lightning also costs airlines billions of dollars in flight rerouting and delays.

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 satellites 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. Much more lightning occurs over land than ocean because daily sunshine heats up the land surface faster than the ocean. The heated surface heats the air, and more hot air leads to stronger convection, thunderstorms, and lightning. The map also shows that more lightning occurs near the equator than near the poles. This pattern is also due to differences in heating. The equator is warmer than the poles, and convection, thunderstorms, and lightning are widespread across the tropics every day. Image by NASA. Enlarge.

world lightning map
World lightning map by NASA shows the geographic distribution of lightning. Areas of highest activity are shown in orange, red, brown, and black. Areas of low activity are white, gray, purple and blue.Lightning activity is lowest over the oceans and polar areas. It is highest over warm continental areas. The numbered scale represents lighting flashes per square kilometer per year. Enlarge map.

Where Does the Most Lightning Occur?

The area on earth with the highest lightning activity is located over the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. This area has thunderstorms all year round as a result of moisture-laden air masses from the Atlantic Ocean encountering mountains.

Where Does the Least Lightning Occur?

Lightning has its lowest frequency in polar areas. It is rarely seen over the Arctic Ocean or Antarctica. These areas are too cold to host the types of storms that produce lightning. Lightning also has a very low occurrence over the oceans.

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 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 and produce the rising air masses that host thunderstorms. Florida is also the state with the most lighting 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.

How Was This Map Produced?

NASA has satellites that orbit the earth with sensors that detect lightning. Data from those satellites was used to determine the occurrence of lightning activity over time. That data was plotted to create this map.

Why Is Lightning Mapping Important?

The map above and other lightning mapping activities have many practical and academic uses. These include:
  • Severe storm detection and warning.
  • Convective rainfall estimation.
  • Storm tracking.
  • Aviation hazards.
  • Warnings: Power companies, fuel depots, golf courses, etc.
  • Forest fire forecasting.
  • Indicator of 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.


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