Updated May 24, 2018 - Science

Mapped: Where lightning strikes the most

Adapted from Vaisala data; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Every second on Earth, 100 lightning bolts strike the planet. That's about 8 million strikes per day, and 3 billion a year, on average. But as this map of nearly 9 billion lightning strikes shows, lightning is not evenly distributed around the world.

The bottom line: Each continent, except for the frozen reaches of Antarctica, has lightning hotspots — usually the parts that have clashing air masses or mountains. Spin the map and see where you're at the greatest risk of getting zapped.

How it works: Generally, these hotspots can be found in areas where air masses are frequently clashing, leading to the rising motion of air that spawns the massive cumulonimbus clouds that produce lightning. In addition, mountainous regions can also act as thunderstorm factories of sorts.

The company Vaisala operates a global lightning detection network, known as GLD360, that tracked nearly 8.8 million lightning strikes between 2013 and 2017. According to Vaisala meteorologist Ron Holle, precise lightning distribution patterns differ from year to year based on variations in the weather.

Over time, though, patterns do emerge:

  • In North America, the region popularly known as "Tornado Alley" in the Great Plains is a lightning hotspot, along with the Gulf Coast.
  • In South America, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Colombia see the most lightning strikes.
  • In Africa, the lightning capital is the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Australia's northern coast is a lightning magnet, since it borders the tropics.
  • In Asia, northeast India, Sumatra, and Malaysia rank as the top lightning strike locations , based on Vaisala's data.

As the climate changes in response to greenhouse gas emissions as well as natural variability, the distribution of lightning is also changing. For example, the past few summers have featured an unusually high number of lightning strikes in Alaska.

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