Lake Maracaibo

NASA Crowns Earth's New Lightning Capital

Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela experiences more lightning than any other location on Earth, with an average rate of about 233 flashes per square kilometer per year.

A study using observations from the Lightning Imaging Sensor aboard NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission has found that Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela experiences more lightning than any other location on Earth, with an average rate of about 233 flashes per square kilometer per year. Until now, researchers had identified Africa's Congo Basin as the location of maximum lightning activity, Ryan Connelly, a student intern at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center Office of Strategic Analysis & Communications reported May 2.

His report says the research team built a very high resolution data set from 16 years of space-based observations to rank lightning hotspots and published their results 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 the Marshall 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."

Connelly reported Blakeslee worked with lightning researchers at the University of São Paulo, the University of Maryland, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Dennis Buechler of the University of Alabama in Huntsville said the lake's unique geography and climatology are ideal for the development of thunderstorms. It is located in northwest Venezuela along part of the Andes Mountains and is the largest lake in South America. Storms commonly form there at night as mountain breezes develop and converge over the warm, moist air over the lake. The result is an average of 297 nocturnal thunderstorms per year, with September being the peak month.

Still, the researchers found Africa is the continent with the most lightning hotspots -- six of the world's top 10 sites for lightning activity, with most of them located by Lake Victoria and other lakes along the East African Rift Valley.

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