New lightning tool tells a striking story

NOAA’s lightning climatology data to benefit outdoor enthusiasts, aviators, emergency managers and others

August, 8, 2014: Lightning near Tucson, Arizona.

August, 8, 2014: Lightning near Tucson, Arizona. (Image credit: John Batbie)

NOAA’s new Lightning Climatology tool for the continental U.S. shows when cloud-to-ground lightning flashes are historically most frequent for any location across the country. 

Data about long-term lightning trends, as well as dates and times of reduced lightning risk, can be useful in a wide range of ways for virtually everyone. Organizers and supporters of outdoor events, outdoor workers, the aviation industry, emergency managers and meteorologists who forecast fire weather — or anyone interested in thunderstorms and lightning — can all benefit.

While the Lightning Climatology tool helps identify how long-term plans may be impacted by thunderstorms, always check the weather forecast for short-term plans. Monitor your local radar for thunderstorms, which will help you know when to seek safe shelter.

“Our new tool tells a story about when and where chances for lightning may be higher, putting anyone outside at a greater risk,” said Aaron Treadway, Severe Services Coordinator and lightning safety expert at NOAA’s National Weather Service. “This climatology data will help people make more informed decisions that impact everything from safety to cost-savings, and could improve the chance for a successful event. ” 

Imagine that you are planning an outdoor wedding for the summer of 2023 in Tampa, Florida.  You can use Lightning Climatology to find out the probability of one or more cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in a 1-hour, 4-hour or 24-hour time period. We did that search and the data shows that mid-afternoon hours have the highest probability of lightning across the Tampa area for any day of the year. 

Lightning climatology homepage
On the Lighting Climatology homepage, you can quickly determine the highest probability of cloud-to-ground lightning across the U.S. for any day of the year. (NOAA)

By drilling down on data for the Tampa area, you can open a Heatmap (the yellow and orange icon) to determine lighting activity for every hour throughout the year. 

The Heatmap for Tampa, Florida, shows lightning activity on average for each hour and days of the year.
The Heatmap for Tampa, Florida, shows lightning activity on average for each hour and days of the year. The darker the colors, the higher the probability of a lightning flash during that time. For most of the summer there is at least a 30% chance of a lightning flash between 3pm EDT and 7pm EDT in Tampa. (NOAA)

The data shows that lightning flashes are less likely to occur in morning hours during the summer. If you still want to have the wedding in the afternoon, you may want to arrange for a backup indoor location to seek safe shelter if a thunderstorm is in the forecast.  Another option is to plan the wedding in winter or spring when lightning is less likely. 

Lightning Climatology was launched by the Storm Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, and is based on more than 20 years of lightning data from the National Lightning Detection Network. The tool will be updated annually as the previous year's quality controlled lightning data becomes available. 

On average, about 25 million lightning flashes occur each year across the U.S. Lightning is possible all year long,  with the peak months being June, July and August.  Each year, on average, 300 people are struck by lightning with 30 fatalities. When you can hear thunder, lightning is nearby — and it can strike from as far as 10 miles away! During a thunderstorm, it is not safe to be outdoors. Remember our slogans, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” and “See a Flash, Dash Inside.” 

For more tips, check out our lightning safety webpage.

Did you know?
  • 70% of lightning fatalities occur in June, July and August.
  • 80% of lightning fatalities are male.
  • Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.
  • Leisure activities (like water-related activities and sports) top the list of activities people are engaged in when struck by lightning.