The figure above shows the average number of thunderstorm days each year throughout the United States. The peak is along the northern and eastern Gulf Coast, with Florida having the highest number of thunderstorm days (80+ days per year). (NOAA)
During the spring and summer, it is rare to go a day without a thunderstorm somewhere in the United States, but have you ever wondered what cities are most prone to seeing those flashes of lightning?
One caveat about this metric is that it does not imply the actual number of thunderstorms each city experiences, as multiple thunderstorms can occur on a given day. In his excellent book, "Extreme Weather," Weather Underground weather historian Christopher Burt writes that six thunderstorms in one day were once observed in an analysis over Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Although these averages are based from 1961-1990, the results would not likely change much using more recent data.
It should surprise no one that the cities making this list are all in the South, where a supply of warm, humid air is more frequently in place to fuel thunderstorms.
This is illustrated well by the graphic at the top of the article, which shows the annual number of thunderstorms in the United States.
Based on the 1961-1990 data, here are the most lightning-prone U.S. cities, ranked by the average number of thunderstorm days per year:
1. Fort Myers, Florida: 88.0 days
2. Tampa, Florida: 82.7 days
3. Tallahassee, Florida: 82.5 days
4. Orlando, Florida: 81.8 days
5. West Palm Beach, Florida: 76.8 days
6. Lake Charles, Louisiana: 75.8 days
7. Mobile, Alabama: 75.5 days
8. Daytona Beach, Florida: 73.4 days
9. Miami, Florida: 72.3 days
10. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: 72.0 days
11. Jacksonville, Florida: 68.4 days; and Pensacola, Florida: 68.4 days
12. New Orleans, Louisiana: 67.2 days
13. Key West, Florida: 67.1 days; and Port Arthur, Texas: 67.1 days
14. Jackson, Mississippi: 66.4 days
15. Houston, Texas: 60.9 days
16. Savannah, Georgia: 60.5 days
17. Birmingham, Alabama: 58.8 days; and Meridian, Mississippi: 58.8 days
18. Montgomery, Alabama: 57.4 days
19. Concordia, Kansas: 56.8 days
20. Huntsville, Alabama: 56.3 days
Nine of the cities are in Florida, including all of the top five. The close proximity of moisture from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean makes the Sunshine State a breeding ground for thunderstorms.
During the summer, sea breeze fronts are a major trigger of thunderstorms each afternoon. From late fall through winter and early spring, cold fronts slicing through the state can bring rounds of thunderstorms from time to time.
It's also worth noting a secondary maximum in the central and southern Rockies, as well as the mountains of Arizona, which shows up primarily during the summer thunderstorm season, the wet phase of the North American monsoon.
While not a city in the official WMO analysis, it's estimated that Cimarron, New Mexico, picks up 110 individual thunderstorms each year, according to Burt.
These thunderstorms flare up most often in the afternoon and evening, and sometimes can be a daily occurrence in the Rockies in summer. So it's wise to do any hiking early in the day, getting off the mountain before thunderstorms hit in the afternoon.
You may be surprised to learn Alaska's interior, more notorious for its harsh, cold winters, also has 10 to 20 days of thunderstorms each year. Summer high temperatures in the 80s are often enough to trigger thunderstorms there, particularly over the higher terrain away from the coast.
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By Kelsey Minalga, Ball Ingenuity
Photographs courtesy of Ball Ingenuity
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