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Central Florida suburb named the lightning capital of the U.S.

January 27, 2023

Four Corners, Florida saw more lightning in 2022 than any other community in the United States. According to environmental technology company Vaisala, Four Corners ranked first in lightning density this year with 474 lightning events per square kilometer, or 1,229 lightning events per square mile.

Four Corners is an unincorporated community just west of Walt Disney World spanning portions of Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Polk Counties. The suburb takes the crown from Flatonia, Texas, as lightning capital of the United States.

Megan Milanese, the director of Lake County’s Office of Emergency Management said in a statement: “Storm safety shouldn’t just be practiced during hurricane season. We ask our residents to review severe weather safety tips, stay indoors during storms if at all possible, and stay up to date on thunderstorm forecasts in the area.”

Florida scored first place in lightning density among all 50 U.S. states, with 285 lightning events per square mile. Louisiana and Mississippi came in second and third place, respectively. Florida also ranked second, behind Texas, in total lightning count with a staggering 18,706,904 lightning strikes. Lighting events increased in Florida by 27% compared to 2021.

Chris Vagasky, meteorologist and lightning expert at Vaisala, said 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.

Hurricane Ian did make some impact on the lightning total, though Vagasky said that 80% of the lightning count is attributed to sea breeze events. According to its lightning report, Vaisala detected more than 34,000 lightning events associated with Hurricane Ian. At the storm’s peak, lightning was detected in Ian’s eyewall every three seconds.

Even though it’s rare, lightning deaths do occur. According to the National Weather Service, 19 people died of lightning strikes in 2022. Hundreds more are injured every year.

Vagasky stressed that people should always practice lightning safety when participating in outside activities.

“There is no safe place outdoors,” he said.

Instead, people should move into a hard-topped vehicle or substantial building. He clarified that an open-air structure such as a picnic shelter is not substantial enough to protect against lightning.

Vagasky also addressed a misconception that lightning injuries are associated with rain or swimming. People sometimes hide under a tree to stay dry, which actually raises the odds of being struck by lightning.

“Just because you’re dry doesn’t mean you’re safe,” he said.

Though Floridians may be very used to thunderstorms, Vagasky said residents shouldn’t underestimate their power.

“Lightning can cause power outages, start wildfires and damage infrastructure.”

Sources include nearest National Weather Service office, National Hurricane Center, and the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (@FloridaStorms).
Sources include nearby emergency management agencies, FEMA, and your local NPR affiliate. 
Sources include the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Highway Patrol and other nearby traffic information.

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A service of WUFT at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications 

Partners of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network include: Florida's Division of Emergency Management, WDNA (Miami), WFIT (Melbourne), WMFE (Orlando), WFSU (Tallahassee), WGCU (Fort Myers), WJCT (Jacksonville), WKGC (Panama City), WLRN (Miami), WMNF (Tampa-Sarasota), WQCS (Fort Pierce), WUFT (Gainesville-Ocala), WUSF (Tampa), WUWF (Pensacola) and Florida Public Media.

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