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Science Behind The Weather: Lightning in the field

Shocking Find: Central Africa is the lightning 'capital' of the world

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 10:09 - Think where you live gets a lot of lightning? Now, thanks to a new map from NASA's Earth Observatory, you can compare your region to others, to see who comes out on top. However, unless you live in a very specific area of Central Africa, you're going to come in at least second in this contest.

Using data collected from two orbiting satellite sensors - the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) on NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite and the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) on the OrbView-1/Microlab satellite - NASA has put together a map of lightning strikes across the Earth, plotted by rate (number per square kilometre, per year).

The result was this:

Global lightning activity. Credit: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

Some regions stand out, like near Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo, along Lake Taha, in northwestern Ethiopia, throughout northwestern Colombia and most of central Africa.

However, for shear concentration of strikes, nowhere comes close to what a swath of land in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo sees. Stretching between Maiko National Park and the the Itombwe National Reserve, near the borders of Rwanda and Burundi, this region shows up like a beacon, with each square kilometre receiving around 100 lightning strikes every year.

Given that the entire region represents roughly 38,610 square miles, that's more than 10 million lightning strikes per year, concentrated in a very small part of the planet!

By comparison, the entire country of the United States - all 3.8 million square miles of it - apparently only sees a little over 25 million lightning strikes per year. In the U.S., Central Florida sees more lightning than any other area. For example, in what is called "Lightning Alley", an area from Tampa, to Orlando, there are as many as 50 strikes per 1 square mile (2.6 km2) (about 20 per 1 km2 or 0.39 sq mi) per year.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory 

Edited by Dalia Ibrahim, to view original article, click here.

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