Why Florida ranks highest for lightning fatalities in the US

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist


While Florida is known as the Sunshine State, it is notorious for thunderstorms, lightning strikes and fatalities.

On average, Florida has 3,500 cloud to ground lightning flashes per day and 1.2 million flashes per year occur, during a recent 10-year study according to Vaisala.

Static Indian Shores Florida Lightning

This photo of a thunderstorm was taken near Indian Shores, Florida, on Aug. 29, 2006. (AccuWeather Fan Photo / gh)


Florida ranks fourth in the nation for lightning flashes behind Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

However, because of the dense population and the amount of people that spend a great deal of time outdoors year-round, more people are struck and killed by lightning in Florida than any other state, according to Vaisala and the National Weather Service.

The combination of heat, humidity and sea breezes on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts makes the perfect breeding ground for thunderstorms over the Florida Peninsula.

Sea breeze: A focal point for thunderstorms

A sea breeze is simply a push of air from the ocean that usually brings a drop in temperature or humidity level during the daytime. This occurs since ocean temperatures often lag behind air temperatures.

This phenomenon enhances showers and thunderstorms across inland areas as clouds, showers and thunderstorms tend to focus along the temperature boundary between the cool ocean air and the warm air well inland.

Static Sea Breeze Thunderstorm Formation


As a result, areas between the ocean and the temperature boundary, or sea breeze front, are usually protected from clouds and rain during much of the day.

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Static Florida Sea Breeze Storms

On this closeup image of Florida, the small dots represent clouds and spotty showers along the sea breeze boundary surrounding much of the coast. Meanwhile, the large patches of white are thunderstorms (arrows). Most of the beaches along the Atlantic coast are free from clouds and showers in this image. The sea breeze is much strong on the Atlantic side of Florida as opposed to the Gulf of Mexico side. (NOAA/Satellite)


At the beach, a shower first thing in the morning is often not the character of the entire day. During the daytime, the sea breeze generally advances farther inland. Likewise, showers drift inland as the day progresses.

During the evening, the sea breeze front either wanders back toward the coast or falls apart. If the sea breeze front survives its trip back toward the coast, it may shower or thunderstorm during the evening at the beach.

Static Sarasota Bay Florida Lightning

This photo of lightning was taken from Siesta Key, near Sarasota Bay, Florida, on May 24, 2008. (AccuWeather Fan Photo / beitzdk)


When winds aloft are light, the timing of such a storm can occur at roughly the same time every day. Such is the case over the Florida Peninsula during the late spring and summer.

Sometimes, two sea breeze fronts may join up and produce robust thunderstorms. This is also a common occurrence over the middle of the Florida Peninsula during the late afternoon and early evening hours in the summertime.

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