Jesse Ferrell

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Weekend's 1,000,000 Lightning Strikes vs. Records

July 02, 2012; 12:15 PM

UPDATE: Spokesmen for Vaisala said that that the derecho put down 129,000 cloud-to-ground strokes between Chicago and the East Coast June 29th & 30th, but was only tens of miles wide, which isn't much given the large area where it did damage. They say: "On the very big lightning days, there tends to be a long intense squall line, perhaps an MCS, and a lot of activity in the SE states at the same time."

1,196,749 lightning strokes* hit the ground in the U.S. (roughly continental) in the last four days, per Vaisala data (see map below). About half a million of those strikes hit the ground/trees/buildings in the mid-Atlantic. Sounds like an incredible amount of lightning...

So was this weekend's lightning a record?

The data doesn't appear to indicate that it is. Data from Vaisala shows that over 2,200,000* lightning strokes** occurred in the Continental U.S. on July 22-23, 2008 (the largest 2-day total from records between January 2008 and March 2011; I'm working to update this data).

Next question: Is lightning frequency increasing?

It doesn't seem to be, with the limited data set that I have. Because lightning detection is always improving, in theory more lightning can be detected, especially outside the Continental U.S. The graph above shows lightning flashes* from Jan. 1 through April 13 for the last several years.

How much lightning strikes the Earth each year? A lot. This is something I've blogged about before.

Vaisala's worldwide lightning network detected 309,959,570 strokes** in the "summer" (May-Oct) of 2010. Lightning density is plotted on the map below. The U.S. seems to be the lightning country capitol of the world, but NASA says, on average, Africa is the winner.

*563,536 "flash counts" - to get "strokes"** multiply by 2.4. **Technically, a "flash" is one lightning strike which can contain more than one stroke (as discussed in my blog "Lightning Lingo").

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.