The lightning climatology of South Africa

  • Morné Gijben South African Weather Service
Keywords: lightning climatology, lightning flash, lightning detection network, ground flash density, risk map


In 2005, the South African Weather Service installed a state-of-the-art cloud-to-ground lightning detection network across the country. The data recorded by this network in 2006 was utilised in the development of an initial lightning climatology of South Africa. Until 2010, this climatology was based on data from a single year. This paper updates this climatology with the lightning data for the 2006–2010 period, which is the first actual lightning climatology by the South African Weather Service based on data covering 5 years. A number of different maps were created from these lightning data. These were lightning ground flash density, median peak kiloampere, percentage positive and average flash multiplicity maps. These four maps were in turn used to develop lightning intensity risk, positive lightning risk and total lightning risk maps. Analysis of the maps showed that the highest concentrations of lightning are found over the central to northern interior of the country, with areas along the northern parts of the eastern escarpment experiencing the highest flash densities and falling within the extreme risk category. Both the positive and total lightning risks are severe for almost the entire country. Only towards the west of the country does the lightning risk decrease. This lightning climatology can now be used throughout South Africa for various disciplines. It will be especially useful for setting lightning safety standards and identifying priority areas for installing lightning conductors and conducting public awareness campaigns.


1. Rakov VA, Uman MA. Lightning: Physics and effects. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2006.

2. Bhavika B. The influence of terrain elevation on lightning density in South Africa. MSc thesis, Johannesburg, University of Johannesburg, 2007.

3. Rakov VA, Rachidi F. Overview of recent progress in lightning research and lightning protection. IEEE Trans Electromagn Compat. 2009;51(3):428–442.

4. Jandrell IR, Blumenthal R, Anderson RB, Trengove E. Recent lightning research in South Africa with a special focus on Keraunopathology. Proceedings of the 16th International Symposium on High Voltage Engineering; 2009 Aug 24–28; Cape Town, South Africa. Johannesburg: South African Institute of Electrical Engineers; 2009.

5. Gill T. Initial steps in the development of a comprehensive lightning climatology of South Africa. MSc thesis, Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, 2008.

6. Ngqungqa SH. A critical evaluation and analysis of methods of determining the number of times that lightning will strike a structure. MSc dissertation, Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, 2005.

7. Peter L, Mokhonoana F. Lightning detection improvement FALLS brought to Eskom’s transmission line design and fault analysis. Proceedings of the 21st International Lightning Detection Conference and 3rd Lightning Meteorology Conference; 2010 Apr 19–22; Orlando, FL, USA.

8. Anderson RB, Van Niekerk HR, Kroninger H. Development and field evaluation of a lightning earth-flash counter. IEE Proceedings A. 1984;131(2):118–124.

9. Van de Groenendaal H. SA Weather Service introduces real-time display and warning system. Vector. 2007;(5):68–69.

10. VAISALA. CP Series CP7000 CP8000 User’s Guide. Helsinki: Vaisala Oyj, 2004; p. 11.

11. Rodger CJ, Russel NA. Lightning flash multiplicity measurements by the US National lightning detection network. Proceedings of the 27th general assembly of the International Union of Radio Science; 2002 Aug 17–24; Maastricht, the Netherlands. Gent: International Union of Radio Science; 2002.

12. Cummins KL, Murphy MJ, Bardo EA, Hiscox WL, Pyle RB, Pifer AE. A combined TOA/MDF technology upgrade of the US National Lightning Detection network. J Geophys Res. 1998;103(D8):9035–9044.

13. Fault Analysis and Lightning Location System. Version 3.2.3. Tucson, AZ: Global Atmospherics Inc.; 2004

14. Rudlosky SD, Fuelberg HE. Seasonal, regional, and storm-scale variability of cloud-to-ground lightning characteristics in Florida. Mon Wea Rev. 2011;139(6):1826–1843.

15. Grant MD. A self-consistent method for the analysis of lightning stroke data sets containing misclassified strokes: The variation of lightning over southern Africa. PhD thesis, Johannesburg, University of the Witwatersrand, 2010.

16. Wilks DS. Statistical methods in the atmospheric sciences. London: Academic Press; 1995.

17. Jurecka JW. An evaluation of lightning flash characteristics using LDAR and NLDN networks with warm season southeast Texas thunderstorms. MSc thesis, College Station, TX, Texas A&M University, 2008.

18. Rakov VA. Positive and bipolar lightning discharges: A review. Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Lightning Protection; 2000 Sept 18–22; Rhodes, Greece. Patras: University of Patras, High Voltage Laboratory; 2000.

19. Ahrens CD. Meteorology today: An introduction to weather, climate and the environment. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole; 2007.