Which state is America’s ‘lightning king’?


Texas again has topped the list of U.S. states that saw the most lightning activity, according to new research.

The Lone Star State experienced 33 million lightning “strokes” in 2020, according to data from environmental measurement specialist Vaisala’s National Lightning Detection Network. Florida leaped three places from 2019 to claim second place with just over 12 million strokes and Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri rounded out the top five.

“A cloud-to-ground stroke, also known as a stroke, is a lightning discharge that connects a charge region in a cloud to the ground and is the bright, high current, visible part of lightning that touches the ground or an object,” explained Vaisala in the annual lightning report. “A cloud-to-ground flash consists of at least one cloud-to-ground stroke and is dangerous to life and property.”

Overall, the number of cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning events in the continental U.S. in 2020 was 170,549,822, down from 222,988,888 in 2019.

DEVASTATING WILDFIRE ‘ANATOMY’ EXPLAINED

In a so-called “lightning drought,” 39 of the lower 48 states saw below-average lightning in 2020. 

However, fewer lightning strikes meant less rain, so when lightning hit drought-affected areas the vegetation was more likely to catch fire, Vaisala noted. This was evidenced by some of last year’s devastating wildfires.

“Although California saw fewer than 300,000 lightning events in 2020 — a 48% decrease from their previous five-year average — more than 20% of the events occurred during a four-day period in August, in what was described as a lightning siege,” explained Chris Vagasky, meteorologist and lightning applications manager at Vaisala, in a statement. “This onslaught of lightning, which was accompanied by very little rainfall, triggered four wildfire complexes that combined to burn more than 1.8 million acres of land.”

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Despite the overall dip in lightning events, Michigan experienced one of its most active lightning years on record, with Vaisala citing 2,317,693 detected lightning events.

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