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Lightning strikes increasing in Oregon

by KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill

Bio | Email | Follow: @kgwrodhill

Posted on May 15, 2013 at 7:46 PM

Updated Thursday, May 16 at 9:17 AM

The above photograph was captured in the Grand Canyon by photographer Travis Roe and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior.  It is estimated that lightning strikes the Grand Canyon on average more than 26,000 times each year. 

The beauty of the photo is used to highlight research in Oregon that verifies an increase of lightning strikes between 1990 and 2012.  The data was collected across eastern Oregon and counted by Fire Weather Program Manager John Saltenberger with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Data shows an average number of lightning strikes near 29,000 in 1990 and an upward curve of strikes, peaking near 70,000 in 2003-2004 and near 48,000 strikes in 2012.  An upward trend in lightning is of concern as we head into this summer's fire season. 

At this time, the science of meteorology does not have a forecast model or technique to predict if this summer will see an active lightning season or not.  The past 22 years have seen calm seasons in between high lightning strike years. 

Fire weather meteorologists say the biggest concern is thunderstorm clusters that produce dozens of fire starts at once, making it impossible for crews to monitor and react to each blaze.  The delay in action caused by the number of fires can allow large fires to develop quickly.

Western Oregon lightning data has not been counted by the agency.  However, my personal records for the Portland metro also show an increase in lightning detection since 1999.


KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill, follow me @