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Eric Sysoev
Eric Sysoev

Venezuela Lightning

Some of the early data from the satellite was used to create global maps of lightning activity. These maps revealed that the geographic distribution of lightning is not uniform across the Earth. It is generally highest in the tropics and decreased with distance north and south of the equator. However, some regions and even small areas have exceptional amounts of lightning.

Venezuela Lightning

Using 16 years of lightning data, researchers were able to scan the earth for areas of intense lightning activity at a resolution of 0.1 degree. This brought the global distribution of lightning activity into very clear focus. They were able to identify and rank small areas of Earth that generated the greatest amount of lightning during the 1998 to 2013 observation period. A detailed report of their work was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. [2]

One small area in northern South America is clearly the world's principal lightning hotspot. That hotspot is located over the southern end of Lake Maracaibo, a brackish bay in northwestern Venezuela. This area has a lightning flash rate density of 232.52. That means that the area experiences an average of 232.52 flashes of lightning per square kilometer per year.

To illustrate how the Lake Maracaibo hotspot is in a class of its own, the second and third place hotspots had flash rate densities of 205.31 (Kabare, Democratic Republic of the Congo) and 176.71 (Kampene, Democratic Republic of the Congo). They do not come close to rivaling its lightning activity. In addition to Venezuela and Democratic Republic of the Congo, locations in Colombia, Pakistan, and Cameroon are in the world's top ten lightning hotspots. A table listing the world's top ten hotspots accompanies this article.

Lake Maracaibo has a reputation for its lightning that dates back before the start of written history. Local people call this phenomenon "Relámpago del Catatumbo" (Catatumbo lightning). It is named after the Catatumbo River, which enters Lake Maracaibo on its southern shore. The lightning is centered above the mouth of the river.

Sailors call the lightning "Faro de Maracaibo" or "The Beacon of Maracaibo" because, like a lighthouse, the flashes can be clearly seen from the Gulf of Venezuela and on some clear nights, out into the Caribbean. The epic poem, "La Dragonetea" tells the story of how, in 1595, ships under the command of Sir Francis Drake attempted a night surprise attack on the Spanish colonial city of Maracaibo. A night watchman in the city noticed silhouettes of Drake's ships illuminated by the lightning and notified the Spanish garrison stationed in the city, and with that advance warning, they were able to foil the attack.

Through the day, the lake and the surrounding hills are heated by the sun. The hills warm faster than the lake, and divergent winds move across the surface of the lake towards the land. Then at night, the land cools faster than the lake, and winds reverse to converge across the surface of the lake. This pattern causes nocturnal convection above the lake and produces recurrent thunder and lightning above the lake.

A video clip posted to Twitter on Friday showed Brees filming a commercial for PointsBet in Catatumbo, Venezuela, a location known for its lightning strikes, when a bolt apparently hits him and knocks the production off kilter.

If one likes lightning storms, then the most extreme lightning place on earth is Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. It has so much lightning that it is known as the lightning capital of the world. So much lightning lights up Lake Maracaibo, that sailors used to use it to guide their ships and it earned itself the nickname "Lighthouse of Maracaibo."

Venezuela is a very beautiful country and rich in many things. One can enjoy its tropical beaches, lush rainforests, and intense displays of lightning. Venezuela has more than just the craziest lightning hotspot in the world, it also boasts Angel Falls - the highest waterfalls in the world.

The lake is famous for its weather phenomenon called Catatumbo lightning which makes Lake Maracaibo produce more lightning than anywhere else on earth. If one is a lightning enthusiast, consider adding this to a future itinerary.

The lightning is thought to be the result of winds blowing across the lake and the surrounding swampy plains. The air masses meet the high mountain ranges of the Andes, the Perijá Mountains, and Mérida's Cordillera. These ranges enclose the plain below from three sides.

Since early explorers, Lake Maracaibo has been known as the "Lighthouse of Maracaibo" and its lightning is visible for miles around. It may come as a surprise but the first colonists of Venezalua were not the Spanish but rather the Germans.

On average the earth produces around 44 flashes of lightning every second annually. It produces the most (around 55 flashes per second) in the boreal summer and the least (around 35 flashes per second) in the austral summer.

On average, Lake Maracaibo has some 233 flashes per square kilometer every year with thousands occurring per night. Often there is no thunder - just lightning. And the lightning occurs in around 300 nights in the year with September being the peak month.

So for the greatest density of lighting in the world, go to Venezuela. But if one is in Africa (and especially DR Congo with five of the top 10 world lightning hot spots) one can find many lightning hotspots lighting up the sky.

The persistent flashes of the lightning are so strong that they are clearly visible from 250 miles (400 kilometres) away. And because the storm lasts for up to ten hours a night, there is almost near constant illumination of Lake Maracaibo and the surrounding areas. In the past, colonial soldiers have also been known to use these bright flashes of light for their navigation.

Researchers are not really sure what causes so much lightning at the mouth of Catatumbo River. One theory is that the methane from the oilfields below the lake increases the conductivity of the surface of the water. The methane gas gets carried into the atmosphere by the strong winds blowing in from the Andes Mountains located nearby. Another theory suggests that uranium deposits in the bedrock attract more lightning bolts. Neither one of the theories has been confirmed so far. So as of now, the reason behind these lightning strikes has been credited to a powerful composition of topography and wind patterns.

One surprising element with these consistent lightning bolts is the prominent absence of accompanying thunder. Some people are of the belief that Catatumbo lightning does not cause thunder, this is actually a myth. The reason behind the absence of audio is due to the fact that the storm occurs almost 30-60 miles (50-100 kilometres) away from the witnesses. Science says it is next to impossible to hear thunder if you are located 15 miles (25 kilometres) or more away from the lightning bolt. So that explains it!

Visit the nearby villages of Ologa or Congo Mirador to witness this natural wonder. Tours to the Catatumbo Lightning run from Mérida, a lively town at the foot of the Andes. The lightning is at its most spectacular at the height of the wet season around October, which is perfect timing if you also want to visit Venezuela's number-one attraction, Angel Falls in Canaima National Park. Both attractions are utterly spectacular in the wet season, and should be on every travellers' bucket list.

There was an uproar Friday morning when a video emanated of Drew Brees appearing to get struck by lightning in Venezuela, where the former star NFL quarterback was filming a commercial for the sportsbook PointsBet.

If you really want to see nature at its most awe-inspiring and angry, head to Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. As the BBC reports, it's officially the most electric place on Earth, with thousands of lightning strikes every hour at peak times - that adds up to an average of 260 days of storms in every 365-day year. Locals refer to it variously as the Beacon of Maracaibo, Catatumbo lightning, or simply "the everlasting storm".

Venezuela's close proximity to the equator is one reason for the meteorological phenomenon, where the temperatures are higher and the storms are more intense. When the lightning is 'in season', usually in October, you can catch an average of 28 flashes a minute. This drops during the drier months of January and February.

Scientists have long sought reasons for this record-breaking microclimate, but no one has been able to prove there's any more to it than a unique combination of terrain, location, and wind patterns. At one point it was thought that uranium in the bedrock at Lake Maracaibo attracted lightning strikes, while more recently an abundance of methane in the air was suggested as the underlying reason, but there's a lack of evidence for either theory.

"A lot of the [lightning] hotspots are tied to features in the terrain - slopes of mountain ranges, curved coastlines, combinations of those," Daniel Cecil from the Global Hydrology and Climate Centre told the BBC. "Having irregularities like that in the terrain can help generate wind patterns and heating or cooling patterns that would boost the likelihood of thunderstorms."

Lightning is caused by small, frozen ice crystals colliding with raindrops in thunderclouds. The friction produces an electric charge that fills up the cloud: positive charges (protons) at the top and negative charges (electrons) at the bottom. This in turn generates a positive electric charge underneath the ground, one that eventually finds its way to the surface in a blast of lightning (via a conveniently placed metal pole or isolated tree, if one is available).

But back to Lake Maracaibo. The largest lake in South America, it flows out into the Caribbean Sea and is surrounded on the three other sides by high mountain ridges that form part of the Andes. As the hot tropical sun evaporates water from the lake and the surrounding wetland, trade winds from the sea push this warm air into cold air coming down from the mountains. The resulting cumulonimbus clouds can reach up to 12 kilometres high (39,000 feet), and produce the alarmingly regular lightning storms.


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