To most Americans a bolt of lightning has to be accompanied by dozens or hundreds more before it makes the news. Lightning storms are common, fascinating to watch and watch out for, but common enough. Not in Western Washington, and especially not on Whidbey Island. A part of a morning storm blew by and it made the news.
Take a look at a color map of where lightning strikes in the continental US. Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas get hit. Look to the Southeast for another hot spot, which is ironically where we launch some of our biggest rockets: Florida. (High probability of lightning strikes, towers of explosive propellants. What could go wrong? – Hence the Really Big towers protecting the rockets by diverting the lightning, hopefully.) Now, look up in the other corner, the Pacific Northwest. Barely anything at all.
That doesn’t mean Whidbey doesn’t have to worry about lightning, but it does mean that when we get a strike, and even one will do it, it becomes news. Social media gets busy. Weather watchers are glad for some weather to watch. And folks reminiscing about childhoods lived where the weather is more dynamic cheer the flash, boom, and rattle – as long as no one gets hurt.
Blame, or thank, our temperate marine climate. Those other places in the US also get tornadoes and hurricanes, proof that the atmosphere is more energetic, there. Here on Whidbey we get milder temperatures (usually) and storms that are more likely to hit in autumn through spring instead of during the hot convective climate of summer.
Also thank the terrain, which may have something to do with it because those tornadoes and hurricanes tend to happen over flat land. Whidbey is surrounded by water, so storms can break up as they cross from land to sea to land. Lightning does happen in the mountains, though. Mountains upset the atmosphere as masses of air rise and fall creating displays along the ridges visible from Whidbey. Drama, at a distance.
For those who want to watch for forecasts or real time data, here are a few links. You probably don’t have to visit them every day, however. If a storm is coming, you’ll probably hear about it in the news, on social media, or in the line at the grocery store as some people prep for it, just in case.
National Weather Service
Pacific Northwest Weather Watch