Will we get lightning today? Scientists study wind to predict strikes

Sea breeze helps forecasters predict lightning

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

MELBOURNE, Fla. - Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. and Central Florida gets more strikes than anywhere else in the state.

So it's no surprise that forecasters at the National Weather Service in Melbourne put a lot of effort into predicting where the most strikes will occur.

[SEE INTERACTIVE MAPS BY ZIP CODE: Southerly sea breeze scenario map | Easterly sea breeze scenario map | Westerly sea breeze scenario]

Click here for total lightning strikes over the last ten years

Lightning Specialist Matt Bragaw says meteorologists have gotten much better at predicting who will see heavier lightning, thanks to a study of sea breeze patterns.

"Lightning is concurrent with thunderstorms and thunderstorms are going to be driven by the sea breezes. While each individual strike is not predictable, we can tell with a very high degree of predictability where the storms are going to concentrate on any given afternoon based on the prevailing winds," Bragaw said.

Using data from a 10-year study of sea breeze and sub-tropical ridge patterns, Bragaw is able to predict lightning storms based on the same patterns from years past.

One of the most dangerous patterns here in Central Florida is when the sea breeze dominates out of the west, colliding with the weaker east coat sea breeze in the area of I-95.

This pattern has the ability to produce thousands of strikes over eastern Orange and Seminole Counties as well as western Brevard County. A noticeably higher number than areas just outside this area.

We get most of our lightning, 90-percent, between June 1 and September 30 and between the hours of 2-8 p.m.

It turns out the shape of our state also plays into where lightning will form.

"The shape of the coastline is going to affect the shape of the sea breeze," Bragaw says.  "Wherever the sea breeze manages to collide is going to be the focus points for your storm activity."

Bragaw points to four hot spots of activity around the state, all near areas of discontinuity along the coast. More lightning is spotted near Cape Canaveral, Tampa Bay, Ft. Myers and West Palm Beach.

Local 6 included interactive zip code maps (links above) of the top three sea breeze scenarios most likely to affect Central Florida. Purple and red areas indicate the highest likelihood of lightning.

If you're curious what your chance of lightning is for today, the Nation Weather Service provides a daily risk map that is updated daily.

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