Where in the world does lightning strike the most?

In a new study using 16 years of satellite data, NASA reveals that the number one spot gets almost 300 thunderstorms per year; these other hotspots are wild as well.

We didn’t need NASA to tell us that Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, pictured above, wins the prize for being the place on the planet riddled with the most lightning. We’ve written about this playground for Zeus before, and how could any other spot top it? Located along the Andes Mountains, it is the largest lake in South America and is situated in such a way that mountain breezes tangle with warm lake air to create a perfect storm, so to speak, of storms – an enduring deep convection that results in 297 thunderstorms a year. So legendary is this place of wild sky that sailors once used it for help in navigation; the storms are variously known as Catatumbo lightning, the Never-Ending Storm, or the Lighthouse of Catatumbo.

Nonetheless, NASA has given the official crown to Lake Maracaibo after crunching the numbers from the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) onboard NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission. A research team constructed an ultra high-resolution data set gathered from 16 years of LIS observations from space to identify and rank lightning hotspots.

"We can now observe lightning flash rate density in very fine detail on a global scale," says Richard Blakeslee, LIS project scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "Better understanding of lightning activity around the world enables policy makers, government agencies and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions related to weather and climate."

(And, it’s just a very cool thing for us civilians and armchair storm enthusiasts to have the pleasure of pondering.)

Although Lake Maracaibo takes the cake for flashes, as a continent Africa remains the one with the most lightning hotspots – it plays host to six of the world's top ten sites for lightning activity. Of the top 500 lightning hotspots, in fact, 283 of them are in Africa. Asia comes in second with 87 sites, followed by South America with 67, North America with 53 and Oceania bringing up the rear with 10.

Here is the breakdown of the top ten hotspots, ranked and listed by average lightning flashes per square kilometer (roughly 247 acres) per year.

1. Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela: 232.52
2. Kabare, Democratic Republic of Congo: 205.31
3. Kampene, Democratic Republic of Congo: 176.71
4. Caceres, Colombia: 172.29
5. Sake, Democratic Republic of Congo: 143.21
6. Dagar, Pakistan: 143.11
7. El Tarra, Colombia: 138.61
8. Nguti, Cameroon: 129.58
9. Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo: 129.50
10. Boende, Democratic Republic of Congo: 127.52

While North America’s hotspots are mostly in places like Guatemala and Mexico, the most active place for lightning in the United States ranks 14th for North America and 122th globally. Can you guess where it is? If the Everglades came to mind, gold star for you. A spot of marshland near Orangetree, Florida, with 79 flashes of lightning per square kilometer each year, is the country's biggest lightning earner. It’s no Lake Maracaibo, but with nearly 100 thunderstorms a year, it’s our next best thing.

You can read the whole report at the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Tags: Nasa | Weather


treehugger slideshows