Mississippi State University Weather

Florida, The Lightning Capital of the U.S.

The Sunshine state, the prime vacation destination, and the home of the happiest place on Earth has yet another name to add to its extensive list and some may find it shocking. Florida is considered the lightning capital of the United State with an average of over one million cloud-ground strikes per year over the past 10 years. While Florida provides an excellent spot for a beach get-a-way, it also has the perfect recipe for lighting.


Vaisala. “National Lightning Detection Network 2005-2014 Flash Density per sq mile”. Image. Web. 14    Octo. 2015


The Ingredients:

Moisture: Located smack dab in the middle of two major warm bodies of water, the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida has some of the best weather around the U.S. In addition, it even has the Caribbean Sea to the south. All of the moisture from the surrounding water helps keep things thermally inert because of water’s high specific heat which is able to retain a large amount of heat. This is the reason that winters in Florida are warm and summers aren’t ridiculously hot. There aren’t too many places where you can celebrate Christmas in sandals rather than sweaters. While it keeps the temperatures from reaching unbearable high values, the humidity can reach extremely large values and the large amounts of moisture helps create instability.


Pearson Education. Inc. Image. Web. 16. October. 2015.   <http://www.geography.hunter.cuny.edu/tbw/wc.notes/3.temperature/ocean_currents.htm>

Heat: Florida being right near the tropics, specifically from 25°N to 31°N latitude, means that the sun warms the surface effectively. In addition to the direct heat that Florida gets from the sun, heat flows in from the Caribbean due to the Gulf Stream and easterly winds moving across the top of this surface current helps bring warm air directly onto the East Coast. With heat and moisture combined, the prime location within Florida for lightning to strike and cause significant damage is in the middle of Florida around Tampa and Orlando and at the southern tip near Fort Lauderdale.


National Atlas of the United States. “Lightning Spatial Hazard Events and Losses for the United States,   1995-2009.” Google Maps Engine. Image. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

               Oct. 2015. <https://mapsengine.google.com/10446176163891957399- 05059728630781529877-4/mapview/?authuser=0>.

The Formation: 

Cumulonimbus (Tall, Storm Producing) Clouds:  

Much like how we like to cool off when we’re overheated, the surface wants to release the heat and does so through rising motion and the instability provided by the moisture helps the air to rise. As the hot air rises, it is able to cool off by expanding and releasing heat to the environment. Heat essentially acts as fuel for air to rise and the more heat that accumulates at the surface, the further the air can go vertically which means that clouds will continue to grow into large cumulonimbus clouds. Storm formation is amplified along Florida’s coast because of the quick change from air moving over water to interacting with the air over the land.


As Freddie Mercury said, “send a bolt of lightning, very, very frightening!” The temperature of a lightning bolt can get up to 50,000°F which is 5 times the temperature of the surface of the sun. That being said, lightning is extremely dangerous and any warnings concerning it need to be taken seriously.  Within a cumulonimbus cloud, ice crystals and water vapor will collide into each other and cause electric charges to form. These charges are the source of lightning and any strikes towards the surface are attempts to discharge the cloud. The two types of lightning, positive and negative, depend on the origin of the bolt, or leader, within the cloud.


Jensenius, John S. Jr.  “Types of Flashes.” Understanding Lightning. Image. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.  <http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/science/science_types_flashes.shtml>


Florida has the best blend of heat and moisture in the United States. It’s the only state that’s smothered with warm water influences from three sides- Atlantic water to the east, Caribbean water to the south, and Gulf of Mexico water to the west. It also sits right above the Tropic of Cancer and is ready to soak up some sunshine. These two ingredients mix to make a good amount of tall thunderstorms that can easily produce lightning. From safe conditions, this phenomenon is truly a spectacle as a light show sparks up the dark skies.  ~ Andrew Collins


Bay News 9. “Lightning over Orlando – Sunday, June 10, 2012 (Photo : Randy Young).” Storms bring heavy rain, lightning to Central Florida. 11 June. 2012. Photograph. Web. 16 Oct. 2015. <http://www.baynews9.com/content/news/baynews9/news/article.html/content/news/articles /cfn/2012/6/10/more_sun_less_rain_e.html>


Crisp, Betsy. “When Lightning Strikes.” Solutions For Your Life. University of Florida, IFAS Extension.
5 Oct. 2015. http://pasco.ifas.ufl.edu/fcs/Lightning.shtml

Dwyer, Joe. “Lightning Expert: Q&A.” NOVAscienceNOW.(2005). PBS.org.Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Mogil, H. Michael, and Kristen L. Seaman. “Florida’s Climate And Weather.” Weatherwise 61.6 (2008): 14-19. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Jensenius, John S. Jr. . “Thunderstorm Electrification.” Understanding Lightning. National Weather Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/science/science_electrication.htm

—. “Types of Flashes.” Understanding Lightning. National Weather Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 15 Oct. 2015. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/science/science_types_flashes.shtml

—. “Understanding Lightning Science.” Understanding Lightning. National Weather Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/science/science-overview.shtml