This is the lightning capital of the world

- Earth now has a lightning capital! According to a recent study using observations from the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) onboard NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission, Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela earns the top spot. The LIS recorded an average of about 600 flashes per year per square mile.

Researches originally thought Africa’s Congo Basin as the lightning capital.  The change of venue comes from 16 years of space-based LIS observations that identify and rank lightning hotspots. The researchers described their findings in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society…

“We can now observe lightning flash rate density in very fine detail on a global scale,” said Richard Blakeslee, LIS project scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“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.”

They have yet to release research on any areas of the US, but previous studies suggest that America’s well known lightning capital of Florida, has well under 100 lightning flashes per year, making this discovery about Lake Maracaibo even more impressive.

What makes this area of Venezuela unique is that mountain breezes develop and converge over the year round warm and moist air over the lake forming thunderstorms an average of 297 nights per year, peaking in September.  The previously thought lightning capital of the world in central Africa has similar conditions with the continent remaining atop the list with the most lightning strikes.

Daytime and nighttime lightning flash rate density at Lake Maracaibo (top) and Lake Victoria in Africa (bottom). White lines represent elevation, and gray lines are country physical boundaries. (University of São Paulo)

LIS uses a specialized, high-speed imaging system to look for changes in the optical output caused by lightning in the tops of clouds. By analyzing a narrow wavelength band around 777 nanometers — which is in the near-infrared region of the spectrum – the sensors can spot brief lightning flashes even under bright daytime conditions that swamp out the small lightning signal.


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