As the old saying goes, lightning never strikes twice. But like most old sayings, it’s complete rubbish. Lighting not only strikes twice, but there are places around the globe where it strikes hundreds of times per year.
Among those, there’s Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela with 233 lightning bolts per square kilometer. The region is now considered the world’s "lighting capital," thanks to new data from NASA, which identified the area as having the most lightning strikes anywhere in the world per square kilometer per year.
The study, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, also confirmed that concentrated lightning activity around the world happens more on land than on the ocean, and that lightning activity on land peaks in the afternoon.
"We can now observe lightning flash rate density in very fine detail on a global scale," said Richard Blakeslee, Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) project scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in a statement. "Better understanding of lightning activity around the world enables policy makers, government agencies and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions related to weather and climate."
Previously, the Congo Basin was identified as the most lighting-active area on the planet, and Africa remains the continent with the most hotspots, hosting six out of the world’s top 10 sites. Lake Victoria and other large water basins along the East African Rift Valley have the majority of the hotspots, indicating that equatorial and sub-equatorial lakes have the best conditions to form electric storms.
Lake Maracaibo is not only the largest lake in South America, it also has ideal storm-forming conditions: cool winds come down from the Andes and mix with the warm moist air over the lake, leading to an average of 297 nocturnal thunderstorms per year.
The research was possible thanks to high-resolution data collected over 16 years by the LIS onboard NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission.
LIS uses a high-speed infrared imaging system to identify the quick changes that lightning produces in the tops of clouds. This system has allowed researchers to detect the distribution and variability of lightning in the tropical regions of the planet.
The team behind LIS has built a second instrument to expand this research. It is expected to be launched on a SpaceX rocket in August.
Top image credit: Lightning over the mouth of the Catatumbo River, where it empties into Lake Maracaibo. Fernando Flores via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0