Catatumbo Lightning and The 'Everlasting Storm' Where Lightning Strikes Thousands of Times a Night

If you don’t like lightning storms, this is NOT the place for you.

The mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is known for the Catatumbo lightning phenomenon, or - if you’re into dramatic stuff - the “everlasting storm.” That’s actually not that big of an exaggeration: on average, the area has 300 lightning storm days per year.

Indeed, Lake Maracaibo holds the Guinness Book of World Records for “highest concentration of lightning” as it gets about 250 lightning flashes per square kilometer every year. During the peak of the wet season around October, there’s an average of 28 lightning flashes each minute for up to nine hours!

So what’s the reason behind the Catatumbo Lightning? Physicist Ángel G. Muñoz of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains:

All thunderstorms follow a formula: rapidly rising warm air collides with moist air. Unstable air and moisture are key, and Catatumbo Lightning gets a boost from a unique topography. Mountain ridges cup three sides of Lake Maracaibo, leaving a narrow window open north to the Gulf of Venezuela. The inflowing Caribbean Sea provides an endless supply of warm water, while the hot tropical sun pulls additional moisture from the lake. At sunset, strong winds whip the mountains, jolting warm air up to form cumulonimbus clouds that rage inside. When water droplets of humid air collide with ice crystals from the cold air, it produces static charges that build up. The release discharges a zigzag of electrical energy strong enough to light 100 million bulbs. Ten minutes of Catatumbo Lightning could illuminate all of South America.

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Image: Thechemicalengineer

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