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Is Florida Really the Lightning Capital of the World?

The state has long boasted this unique distinction, but it’s (probably) not true

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Lightning strike in Clearwater
Lightning strikes don’t surprise Floridians, but this burst along Clearwater Beach in 2019 probably scare a few. Pixabay

How many times do you think the average Floridian is asked: “Is Florida really the lightning capital of the country?” It probably happens as often as lightning strikes the actual planet. (About 100 times a second, according to some sources.)

We’re going to give you our answer, but first, let’s try to agree on what criteria determines “capital” status. Is it the number of lightning strikes? The number of lightning deaths? (The number of Stanley Cup victories won by the Tampa Bay Lightning? Let’s rule that out.)

Weather experts tend to agree that lightning density – the number of flashes per square kilometer per year – is the measurement to follow. Now how does that get measured?

Vaisala Oyj is a Finnish company that is considered the de facto expert on these figures as they develop and manufacture the most respected equipment used to measure meteorological events. Vaisala even has an interactive online lightning density map if you’re super curious. 

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Chances are, though, that you’re looking for a simple answer. We’re getting there.

According to an April 2021 report from Vaisala, the United States itself isn’t even among the countries with the most lightning – Singapore along with several central countries of the African continent have that distinction.

But when it comes to just the U.S., Florida and Oklahoma are neck-and-neck for the title of lightning capital of the country. In that same April report, Vaisala reported that Oklahoma had 83.4 lightning flashes per square kilometer over the past five years, compared with 82.8 for Florida. 

Don’t go etching any nameplates into weather trophies just yet; another weather monitoring company called Earth Networks says its data still shows Florida as the champ. 

By the way, if you’re wondering what part of Florida sees the most lightning, that goes to the theme-park-friendly region of Orange County. Yes, it’s a small world after all.

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