TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – Thunderstorms in Florida are not shocking but did you know that Florida is the lightning capital of the United States? Florida, more specifically the corridor between Tampa and Orlando, sees the highest frequency of cloud to ground lightning strikes than any other area in the United States.

The geographical location combined with the shape of Florida’s peninsula is the number one reason thunderstorms develop almost every afternoon. Florida’s peninsula is surrounded by water that is relatively cooler than the afternoon temperatures over land. Land temperatures reach the upper 80s and 90s on a daily basis due to us being so far south towards the equator.

Land heats up quickly compared to the water and temperatures will reach the low 90s by early afternoon. The warm air over the land begins to rise high up into the atmosphere while the cooler air over the water sinks. The rising motion of the air over the land pulls in the cooler air from the water to fill the void. This phenomenon is called the sea-breeze and occurs on both coasts.

The sea breeze acts as a “mini cold front” and showers and thunderstorms develop along it as it moves inland. Thunderstorms easily develop with plenty of moisture in the atmosphere each day, again thanks to Florida being so far south and surrounded by water. As temperatures heat up each afternoon, there is a lot of energy for thunderstorms to use up, grow tall and produce excessive lightning.

Florida is not the only place with sea-breeze thunderstorms. However, Florida is unique in the fact we have sea-breezes develop on both coasts. On a normal afternoon, both sea-breezes will move so far inland, they collide and produce larger, longer-lasting and even stronger thunderstorms. This happens so frequently, almost on a daily basis, that Florida receives the most lightning strikes than any other state.

After knowing that, it should be no surprise that Florida sees the most people struck by lightning year after year as well. This also has to do with Florida being a popular state for outdoor activities, especially in the summer. Often times, people are reluctant to finish activities early due to an incoming thunderstorm, or they simply wait too long to leave because they believe they are not yet in danger.

  • Things to Remember:
    • Lightning CAN strike the same thing multiple times
    • Lightning can strike more than 10 MILES away from the nearest raindrop
    • When lightning strikes a car, the metal body protects you not the rubber tires
    • If you are caught outside with no structure, crouch low to the ground with your heels up; do not lie flat on the ground

Florida may be the lightning capital of the United States but there are a few other areas around the world that have it beat. The top lightning hot spot is located in northern South America. Venezuela experiences 232.52 flashes of lightning per sq kilometer on average per year. In comparison, Florida doesn’t even rank in the top ten around the world but is still considered to have an unusual amount of lightning.