Catacumbo lightning is a major meteorological phenomenon

There is an amazing place on our planet, where thunder and lightning dazzle with breathtaking frequency. This natural phenomenon, an endless series of lightning flashes, could light 100 million light bulbs at the same time. This magical site is located in the Lake Maracaibo basin in Venezuela and is known as the “Lightning of Catacumbo”.

Lightning storm

Why does the Catatumbo lightning phenomenon occur?

Of course, as it usually happens, nothing related to natural phenomena is pure chance. It is linked to the environment in which it develops, especially due to the proximity of the Caribbean and the presence of mountains in the area. It manifests itself throughout the year, but is more frequent between April and November. This region is recognized as the “lightning capital of the world” or also as the “ozone factory”.

It is truly an amazing thing to see. It is a strong succession of thunder and lightning that has no pause. It is caused by strong electrical charges in the lower part of the clouds that “collide” with the elements of the earth’s surface. When it rains, friction occurs between the water droplets and the ice particles, resulting in an electrical transfer that forms the lightning. At the same time, the simultaneous expansion and contraction of the air produces the characteristic noise of thunder. More than one million lightning strikes occur in this area each year.

It is a phenomenon worth witnessing

The Catatumbo lightning is produced by a series of electrical discharges in a continuous way, (about 15 thousand lightnings in nine hours). They can be cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground or ground-to-cloud lightning. The discharges come from cumulonimbus clouds, which are large clouds that can be between 12 and 16 kilometers high. These cumulonimbus are concentrated in the basin of the Catatumbo River, which gives rise to the name.

Catacumbo rays
Rays of Catacumbo – Wikimedia Commons

The Catatumbo area is the ideal zone for the most monstrous storms to develop there. Lake Maracaibo is surrounded on three sides by mountains belonging to the Venezuelan Andes. On another side, there is a narrow window facing the Gulf of Venezuela, which provides the lake with a good mass of warm water and the dose of tropical humidity that storms need.

In the evenings, the cocktail is added by winds from the Maracaibo night current, where the greatest evaporation of water from the lake occurs. The surface winds are forced to ascend because of the mountains and it is there where the cumulonimbus form. In addition, the drops of humid air collide with the ice particles of the cold mass, which causes electrical discharges.

The phenomenon takes place between 260 and 300 days each year. An average of 250 lightning strikes per square kilometer occur, so much so that the area is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Unfortunately, it causes many deaths per year, considering that this area of Venezuela is home to 25% of its population.

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