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Annual Lightning Flash Rate


Before scientists had satellites to detect and measure lightning frequency, it was thought that there were globally 100 lightning flashes per second, an estimate that dates back to 1925. With satellites monitoring lightning frequency, it is now accepted that the global lightning flash frequency is on the order of 40 flashes per second. NASA has two different sensors that measuring flash frequency, the Optical Transient Detector, OTD, and the Lightning Imaging Sensor, LIS. Data from the OTD from 1995 - 2000 and the LIS from 1998 - 2005 has been combined and averaged to create an average annual lightning flash rate map. 11 year of data is included to remove any anomalies that might be present in just one year. The color variations in the map display the average annual number of lightning flashes per square kilometer.

Lightning Color Bar

It is clear from this map that the distribution of lightning flashes around the world is uneven. About 70% of all lightning activity occurs in the tropics. The location that receives the greatest number of flashes per year is near the small village of Kifuka in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The average annual flash rate for this location is about 158 lightning bolts. In the United States, Florida has the highest annual flash rate with an average of 59 lightning bolts per year. Thunderstorms occur most often during the summer, which means that there are only thunderstorms for part of the year. In Central Africa, the climate varies only slightly, allowing for thunderstorms to occur year round. The three key "ingredients" that are needed for a thunderstorm to develop are moisture, instability, and uplift. The moisture is needed for the clouds to develop. Instability in the atmosphere is caused by air that rises because it is warmer than its surroundings. Uplift is what forces the air to initially start rising. Rising air cools and condenses, forming clouds when there is enough moisture. Some examples of uplift mechanisms are mountains that block the path of the airflow, sunlight which warms the air causing it to rise, and front boundaries between weather systems. The land-sea temperature contrast around Florida makes it susceptible to thunderstorms.

Notable Features:

  • Highest lightning flash frequency is 159 flashes per year in Central Africa
  • Florida has the highest flash frequency in the United States
  • The color variation indicates the flash frequency according to the color bar

Data Category

Major: Atmosphere


Atmosphere, lightning, thunderstorms

Data Set Namelightning
Data Set SourceNASA LIS/OTD
Data Set DeveloperNASA LIS/OTD Science Team
Visualization DeveloperNASA Marshall Space Flight Center
ContactNASA Marshall Space Flight Center