During National Lightning Safety Awareness Week in 2021, we reviewed a journal article detailing lightning at the U.S. national parks.
The United States National Park Service (NPS) administers more than 400 parks, monuments, and other recreation areas around the country. The NPS reported more than 297 million visitors in 2021. Among the most recognizable areas that the NPS maintains are the national parks, with Great Smoky Mountain, Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain being the five most visited parks.
Many of the visits to the national parks occur in the spring and summer months, when thunderstorms are most common, so lightning safety is important to the NPS. But as we wrote last year, each park has different amounts of lightning and different spatial patterns of lightning. This is due to the climate of each park, different topographic features in each park, and the random nature of lightning and thunderstorms.
By looking at where lightning occurs over multiple years and creating lightning density maps, we can begin to see regions of more and less lightning activity. Lightning density maps smooth the random nature of thunderstorms and help park operators know where their lightning hotspots are and where to focus more attention on lightning safety efforts. Today, we release a first-of-its-kind lightning density atlas for the U.S. national parks.
We plotted every in-cloud pulse and cloud-to-ground stroke detected by the National Lightning Detection Network NLDN between 2015 and 2021 within national park boundaries. From these more than 5.8 million events, we created lightning density maps on a 2 km x 2 km grid for each of the 51 national parks in the continental United States – available to download as an atlas.
In future versions of the National Park Lightning Density Atlas, we will include parks in Alaska, Hawaii, and other U.S. territories, as well as National Monuments.
Download the National Park Lightning Density Atlas.