The results are in and 2020 had below-average lightning nationwide.

What You Need To Know

  • Most of the U.S. had below-normal lightning events in 2020

  • Florida is still the lightning capital of the country

  • A bullseye of activity was near Orlando

  • There were more than 10 billion lightning events worldwide

Last year was a lot of things, but it was not an active lightning year in the United States. Most areas had below normal lightning activity, intensity, and frequency. 

We reviewed Vaisala's annual lightning report, released by Chris Vagasky, and found some interesting facts and tidbits.

Much of the data involves "lightning events", which include cloud-to-cloud lightning as well.

Lightning drought

Courtesy of Chris Vagasky and Vaisala.

The Plains states, along with the Gulf Coast region, are typically the locations with a high frequency of lightning events. The Plains specifically is due to the Gulf of Mexico moisture and dry air from the Rockies.

The Gulf Coast just typically gets many days with thunderstorms. Last year also saw those areas as the highest nationwide, but the numbers were down from 5-year averages.

Courtesy of Chris Vagasky and Vaisala.

The lower overall frequency is likely due to an abnormally large and persistent area of high pressure that stuck around long after winter in the central part of the country, limiting storm systems that would produce the thunderstorms. With fewer storm systems and cold fronts, there were fewer lightning events. 

Similarly in Florida, there was an absence of early season cold air aloft, leading to slightly more stable air that caused thunderstorms to produce less lightning compared to normal, especially early in the season.

Nationwide, between April and June 2020, the National Lightning Detection Network detected 62% fewer cloud-to-ground strikes than the same period in 2019, and 52% fewer cloud-to-ground strikes than the 2015–2019 April–June average.

Courtesy of Chris Vagasky and Vaisala.

Florida near the top

Despite the lower than normal lightning frequency, Florida was still near the top for total number of lightning events, coming in second to Texas. Being a much larger state, Texas is always on top.

But, Florida did have the highest density of lightning events in the country.

Lightning capital of the world

Courtesy of Chris Vagasky and Vaisala.

Even though Florida is the lightning capital of the United States, it is not the lightning capital of the world. That dubious honor is in Central Africa, and that was the case as well in 2020.