Why a Venezuela Lake Is Home to Most Lightning on Earth

New satellite images show that lightning flashes most often near the equator
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2015 8:33 AM CDT
Why a Venezuela Lake Is Home to Most Lightning on Earth
A fisherman sets up his boat engine where oil litters the shore of Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, July 1, 2010.   (Photo/Reinaldo D'Santiago)

At a lake in Venezuela, a nine-hour display of thousands of flashes of lightning—averaging 28 strokes a minute—is the norm, with the concentration hitting its peak in the October rainy season, reports the BBC. And though the mountain village of Kifuka in DR Congo has long been hailed the most electric place on Earth, Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is living up to its nicknames (including "everlasting storm") and folklore (colonial sailors are said to have used the light displays, visible for as many as 250 miles, for navigation). In fact it's recently earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for being home to the "highest concentration of lightning" on the planet, with lightning striking up to 300 days a year and often thousands of times each of those days. In other places a high frequency of lightning is more seasonal, reports Earth Sky.

So why do some places—especially along the equator—get so much lightning and others—like the north and south poles—hardly any? Scientists have been using satellite imaging to compile this NASA map of the world's lightning hot spots, and a prevailing theory is that places like Kifuka and Lake Maracaibo tout a unique topography that generates wind as well as heating and cooling patterns conducive to thunderstorms. And when water droplets in rising humid air collide with ice crystals in cold air, static electricity flashes its way to the ground or inside clouds. In the coming years, a network of geostationary satellites could provide continuous measurements of lightning around the world. For now, the World Wide Lightning Location Network uses ground sensors to track lightning's high-frequency signals and showcases a real-time display. (Did this couple's hand-holding save them from a strike?)

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