Living with Lightning: 10 States With the Most Electric Weather

Out of all the lightning types (inter-cloud, cloud-to-cloud, and cloud-to-ground), cloud-to-ground or CG lightning impacts us the most. It can injure, kill, cause damages, and start fires. Besides practicing lightning safety, knowing where lightning may strike twice is a must to lessening it's destructive potential. But how can you know where lightning strikes most often?  

Using lightning flash data from Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network, we compiled a list to answer just this. Based on this data, here are the states where lightning hits the ground most often (ranked by the number of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes seen per year on average over the past decade, 2006-2015).

10
Mississippi

Lightning Flurry
Mike Hollingshead / Getty Images
  • 787,768 average CG flashes per year 
  • 16.5 Flashes per sq mile
  • Fatalities since 2006: 9

With their largely humid subtropical climates, the Southeastern states are no strangers to thunderstorms and their accompanying lightning. And Mississippi is no exception.

So far this year, 3 people have lost their lives to lightning there, making it the state with the third highest reported lightning deaths in 2016. 

9
Illinois

Lightning over Chicago
Peter Stasiewicz / Getty Images
  • 792,479 average CG flashes per year
  • 14.1 Flashes per sq mile
  • Fatalities since 2006: 6

Illinois isn't just home to the windy city. Thunderstorms, too, frequently blow through the state. Illinois largely owes its reputation as a lightning- rod-state to its location. Not only does it sit at a crossroads of mixing air masses, but the polar jet stream often flows near or over the state, creating an expressway of passing low pressure and storm systems.       

8
New Mexico

Lightning over Bell Rock, Arizona, America, USA
DeepDesertPhoto / Getty Images
  • 792,932 average CG flashes per year
  • 6.5 Flashes per sq mile
  • Fatalities since 2006: 5

New Mexico may be a desert state, but that doesn't mean it's immune to thunderstorms. When moist air masses from the Gulf of Mexico move inland, severe weather results. 

7
Louisiana

Thunderstorm over the river at night
Anton Petrus / Getty Images
  • 813,234 average CG flashes per year
  • 17.6 Flashes per sq mi
  • Fatalities since 2006: 12

When you think of Louisiana, hurricanes, not lightning, may first come to mind. But the reason why tropical systems frequent this state is the same reason thunderstorms and lightning do too: the warm and humid waters of the Gulf of Mexico are at its doorstep.

To date, one ninth of the US lightning deaths reported so far in 2016 have happened in Louisiana.  

6
Arkansas

Lightning from sunset
Malcolm MacGregor / Getty Images
  • 853,135 average CG flashes per year
  • 16 Flashes per sq mile 
  • Fatalities since 2006: 8

As a Tornado Alley state, Arkansas sees it's share of severe weather.

Although the state doesn't border the Gulf, it's still close enough for its weather to be influenced by it.

5
Kansas

Lightning and Windmill over a Farm in Texas
© Signature Exposures, Photography by Shannon Bileski / Getty Images
  • 1,022,120 average CG flashes per year
  • 12.4 Flashes per sq mi
  • Fatalities since 2006: 5

Unlike its nearby Gulf Coast states, Kansas' severe weather isn't influenced by any major bodies of water. Instead, its storminess is a result of the weather patterns that bring cold and dry air into contact with warm, moist air over the state.  

4
Missouri

USA, Missouri, St. Louis, Arch at sunset
Henryk Sadura / Getty Images
  • 1,066,703 average CG flashes per year
  • 15.3 Flashes per sq mile
  • Fatalities since 2006: 13

Didn't expect "The Show Me State" to rank this high? It's Missouri's location that lands it on the list. Since it is equidistant from the northern plains and Canada and warm moist air masses from the Gulf. Not to mention there aren't any mountains or landscape barriers to block the storms that roll in.   

3
Oklahoma

Tornado and Lightning Bolt
Clint Spencer / Getty Images
  • e1,088,240 average CG flashes per year
  • 15.6 Flashes per sq mile
  • Fatalities since 2006: 1

If there's a state you're not surprised to see on this list, it's likely Oklahoma. Located at the heart of the US, the state sits at a meeting hub of cold dry air from the Rocky Mountains, warm dry air from the desert south-western states, and warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast. Mix these together and you've got an ideal recipe for intense thunderstorms and severe weather, including the tornadoes OK is so popularly know for.  

While Oklahoma ranks in the top three states for lightning, astraphobes need not worry as much about being injured by a strike. Only one lightning-related death has happened on state soil in the last decade.

2
Florida

Lightning illuminates a purple sky, palm trees and the water at the St. Johns River west of Cocoa, Florida, USA
Chris Kridler / Getty Images
  • 1,192,724 average CG flashes per year
  • 20.8 Flashes per sq mi
  • Fatalities since 2006: 54

Although Florida ranks as the #2 state with the most lightning strikes, it is often called the "Lightning Capital of the World." That's because when you break down how many flashes Floridians see per square mile of land (a measure known as lightning flash density) no other state compares. (Louisiana ranks second with 17.6 lightning flashes per square mile.) 

Florida also has the highest number of lightning-related deaths of any US state—over 50 in the past 11 years! And it's leading for deadliest state in 2016; so far this year, 7 out of the 36 lightning fatalities that have occurred have done so on Florida soil. 

What makes Florida such a lightning rod state? It's proximity to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean means there's never a shortage of moisture or warmth to fuel convective thunderstorms

1
Texas

Lightning over Dallas
Lightning over the Dallas, Texas skyline. www.brandonjpro.com / Getty Images
  • 2,878,063 average CG flashes per year
  • 10.9 Flashes per sq mi
  • Fatalities since 2006: 22

Apparently, the saying "Everything's bigger in Texas" includes the weather. With nearly 3 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year, Texas sees over twice as many CG flashes as runner-up, Florida.  

Texas not only benefits from Gulf moisture like the other southern states on our list, but the climate variation within the state itself is a trigger for severe weather. In far West Texas, a near-desert climate exists, but as you move east, a more humid subtropical climate reigns. And like neighboring cold and hot temperatures, neighboring dry and humid air masses trigger the development of severe convective storms. (The boundary between the two is called a "dry line.")   

 

Resources & Links

Number of Cloud-to-Ground Flashes by State from 2006-2015. Vaisala

Number of Lightning Deaths by State from 2006-2015. Vaisala

US Lightning Deaths in 2016, NOAA NWS

State Climate Summaries (MS, IL, NM, LA, AR, KS, MO, OK, FL, TX) The COCORAHS 'State Climates' Series