An unincorporated community just west of Walt Disney World has earned the prestigious title of the Lightning Capital of the United States. With an impressive 474 lightning events per square kilometer, or 1,229 lightning events per square mile, this unassuming neighborhood has become known for its atmospheric phenomenon, captivating the attention of meteorologists and locals alike.
The small suburb takes the crown from Flatonia, Texas, and the state of Florida also scored the top spot for total lightning density among all 50 U.S. states, with 285 lightning events per square mile. Meteorologists have studied the area’s climatic conditions to understand why this particular location experiences such an astonishing number of lightning strikes. By shedding light on the factors that contribute to this phenomenon, scientists aim to unravel the secrets of nature’s electrifying spectacle.
Florida experiences heavy lightning due to its geography as a peninsula. Gulf and sea breezes move inland every day, especially during the summer, and the moist air creates the conditions needed for thunderstorms to brew. When these breezes collide, even stronger storm activity can occur.”
Meteorologist and lightning expert at Vaisala, Chris Vagasky, says 80% of the lightning count is attributed to sea breeze events. According to Vaisala’s lightning report, more than 34,000 lightning events detected were associated with Hurricane Ian. Lightning was detected in Ian’s eyewall every three seconds during the storm’s peak.
The National Weather Service reports that in 2022, at least 19 people died by lightning strike, while hundreds more are injured every year. Vagasky urges people to always practice lightning safety when participating in outside activities. “There is no safe place outdoors.”
An open-air structure such as a picnic shelter is not a suitable protection against lightning, rather you should move into a hard-topped vehicle or substantial building. There’s a misconception that lightning injuries are associated with rain or swimming, so people assume they can hide under a tree to stay dry, but this actually raises the odds of being struck by lightning.
Never underestimate the power of thunderstorms. Lightning can result in power outages, wildfires and extensive damage to infrastructure.