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Research & Data

Here’s How Rare Thunderstorms Are in the SF Bay Area

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Jan. 11, 2023 • 9:00am
Lightning strikes a crane in San Francisco on Tuesday, Jan 10, 2023. | Jesse Rogala/The Standard

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It isn’t too common for San Franciscans to see lightning strike the city as it did Tuesday. In fact, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the least likely targets for thunderstorms in the entire country.

A look at data from the Iowa Environmental Mesonet at Iowa State University shows only 37 thunderstorm warnings have been issued for the SF Bay Area since 2005, the third lowest number of any U.S. region. 

Areas along the Pacific Coast do not see too many electrical storms. Thundermaking needs warm air to rise and smack into cold air falling, but the Pacific Ocean keeps coastal temperatures relatively consistent. But even on the West Coast, SF is an outlier: LA and Portland have had triple the thunderstorm warnings of the Bay Area.

Folks in other parts of the country scoff at SF’s excitement about lightning. That’s because it's literally an everyday occurrence in some cities.

In fact, Norman, Oklahoma, the thunderstorm capital of America, received more than 12,000 thunderstorm warnings since 2005—that’s an average of about 1.8 per day and more than double the number of other top 10 thunder towns, Memphis, Rapid City and Fort Worth.

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Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]


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