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What part of Colorado had the most lightning in 2019?

There were more than 3.7 million lightning flashes in Colorado last year, according to the National Lightning Detection Network.

COLORADO, USA — There were 223 million lightning flashes in the United States in 2019. 

That's 8 million more than there were the year before, according to data just released from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN).

The report was released by Vaisala which owns and operates the NLDN and has an operation center in Louisville, Colorado. It lists the data as 'flashes' because it is the combination of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes and in-cloud flashes. 

“We detect over 90% or even 95% of all the cloud-to-ground flashes. We detect 40 to 50 percent of all the in-cloud lightning,” said Ron Holle, a meteorologist with the company. 

Holle said total flashes is a better representation of the amount of lightning we visually witness with thunderstorms. They now have a fifth year of high-quality data since upgrading the NLDN in 2015.  


The report said there were more than 3.7 million lightning flashes recorded in the skies above Colorado in 2019. On average, about 500,000 of those hit the ground according to the National Weather Service.

That was a large increase in the number of lightning flashes between 2018 and 2017.

Total lightning flashes detected in Colorado over the past three years:

2019: 3,704,799

2018: 3,612,136

2017: 3,356,368 

A single thunderstorm can make a big difference in swaying the data.

“It takes one big storm to give you 10,000 to 50,000 events,” said Holle.

Despite the increase in lightning activity in Colorado in 2019, our state's ranking dropped from 19th to 20th because of a larger increase in other states.

Credit: Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network
Colorado fell to number 20 from 19 despite an increase in total lightning flashes in 2019.

That data would be higher for states with more landmass, so if you break the lightning data down into density, Colorado ranked 32nd in the country with 35.6 flashes per square mile. 

Florida led that category again this year despite a slight drop from the amount of lightning they normally see there. That state had 227.1 flashes per square mile in 2019; they average 244.

County by county

Colorado may seem like it has more lightning activity because most of it is focused on the eastern part of the state. 

The mountains really keep our state's numbers down compared to other states. 

Credit: Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network
County by county lightning density for Colorado in 2019

“The middle third is the really high elevations and you don’t have that much lightning over the highest elevations of the state. It’s very dangerous, but you don’t have that much,” said Holle. 

The most lightning prone area of Colorado is the northeast corner. In 2019, Logan County had the highest lighting flash density with 108 strikes for every square mile.

Top 10 Lightning Densities in Colorado 2019:

1. Logan 108/sq. mi.

2. Yuma 104/sq. mi. 

3. Phillips 102/sq. mi.

4. Weld 95/sq. mi. 

5. Kit Carson 85/sq. mi. 

6. Sedgwick 96/sq. mi. 

7. Cheyenne 79/sq. mi. 

8. Kiowa 70/sq. mi. 

9. Denver 66/sq. mi. 

10. Teller 61/sq. mi.

Weld County had the most overall lightning with 382,803 flashes in 2019.

Top 10 lightning events in 2019 (total cloud-to-ground and in-cloud flashes)

1. Weld 382,803 

2. Yuma 240,429 

3. Logan 195,873 

4. Kit Carson 183,645 

5. Las Animas 180,095

6. Cheyenne 144,823 

7. Baca 141,462 

8. Washington 138,441 

9. Kiowa 126,498 

10. Lincoln 120,577

Another reason Colorado may seem to get more lighting is because of our high number of lightning fatalities. 

The National Weather Service said that Colorado had the 4th most lightning deaths between 2008 and 2018. On average, three people are killed, and 12 are injured by lightning in Colorado every year.

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There was only one lightning death in our state in 2019. A 36-year-old man was killed while hiking in Boulder County on July 14.

RELATED: Denver man who died after lightning strike identified

The high amount of deaths despite relatively low lightning numbers compared to other states is a result of how fast our thunderstorms develop, and how many people are out in the great outdoors here during the summer.

RELATED: Going hiking? Here's how to stay safe

"It may also have something to do with how we perceive the storms", said Holle. "In the Rocky Mountain region, thunderstorms are small and do not have as much rain. So the perception is that if you are not getting rained on, there is no danger."

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