For years, the Tampa Bay area was known as the unofficial “lightning capital of the United States."

  • New lightning capital of the world is Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela
  • Lake gets lightning about 300 days a year
  • New lightning hotspot for US is about 30 miles SE of Fort Myers

But now, thanks to new satellite technology, researchers at the University of Alabama-Huntsville have found a new lightning hotspot for the U.S. and the world.

The satellites are able to detect all lightning strikes around the globe, which is better for this type of study than old school lightning detection systems which use a method similar to AM radio to detect lightning strikes. 

The older method might be fine for watching local storms, but is severely limited over the oceans and in many other regions of the planet because of the lack of sensors. Satellite lightning sensors can cover all regions.

Globally, a location in Central Africa was historically known as the lightning capital of the world. But the UAH researches now way the honor belongs to a location in South America. 

The new hotspot is Lake Maracaibo on the coast of Venezuela. The river running into the lake is the Catatumbo River. 

Lightning here is known to locals as “Lighthouse of Catatumbo,” “The Never-Ending Storm of Catatumbo”, or simply “Catatumbo lightning.” 

The lake region gets lightning about 300 days a year! Or I should say nights a year because the lightning is mainly at night with very little during the day. 

The region is well known to lightning researchers and now displaces Africa as the lightning capital with the new satellite data. 

Why here? It is an unusual combination of warm water, humid air, and lake/land breezes (similar to our situation in Florida). The storms form and last for hours over or near the lake during the night.  

In North America, no location in the U.S. is even in the top 10 for most active lightning spots. The lightning hotspot for North America is Patalul and Catarina, in Guatemala. Also islands such as Cuba and Jamaica were lightning hotspots.

But the lightning capital of the United States is shifted slightly south to a location about 30 miles southeast of Fort Myers. This spot ranks 14th in North America and 122nd Globally for lightning activity. 

This area receives more lightning due to the sea breeze collisions during the warm and humid summer months, slightly more lightning per year than the former hotspot between Tampa and Lakeland.