A never-ending lightning storm may sound like something out of a fantasy apocalyptic novel, creating a nice and impossible obstacle for our heroes to overcome, yet head down to Venezuela and you’ll see this exact phenomenon for yourself.
The Relámpago del Catatumbo, Spanish for Catatumbo lighting, takes place over the area where the Catatumbo River empties into Lake Maracaibo. The spectacular lightning storm occurs during as many as 300 nights in a given year, for up to 10 hours per day and includes as many as 300 lighting strikes per hour.
Already sounding pretty unusual? It gets better. In 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records officially awarded Lake Maracaibo the ‘Highest Concentration of Lightning’, citing 250 flashes of lightning per square kilometer.
The storm’s frequency picks up during the wet season, usually peaking in October, and features an average of 28 lightning flashes every minute. That’s almost one every other second!
Cause of the Storm
So, why does this seemingly never-ending lightning attack the sky above Maracaibo? No one knows for sure.
The storm remains in the sky about three miles above the surface of the lake. Some scientists believe that a whirlwind of warm and cold air currents combine at just the right altitude to increase lightning formations. In the past, it was thought that high levels of uranium in the ground below attracted the lightning strikes. Researchers have also looked into the high levels of methane from nearby oil fields, believing the emission of large quantities of the gas may have some influence.
The most likely explanation seems to be the warm, moist air flowing in from one direction, combined with a cooler air current closer to the surface of the Earth flowing from the opposite direction.
The typography of the area features mountains on three sides, creating an unstable air flow that is forced upwards, resulting in strong and consistent lightning storms throughout the night. As the night ends and the sun rises, the winds die down and the storm dissipates.
Is it Safe?
The storm and lightning itself are no different than the type you or I would see from the windows of our homes. The uniqueness of this event comes from the consistency of the storms in the same place night after night.
My theory? There is a hidden treasure deep within Lake Maracaibo, but our author wants to make recovering it as difficult and exciting as possible.
Does it Ever Stop?
Despite being deemed the “eternal thunderstorm”, the Catatumbo lightning stops for short periods (a day or two) relatively often. In fact, in January of 2010, the storms stopped entirely, sparking local concerns that they would never return. Come March however, they returned in full force.
It is unknown as to why the storms stopped for three months, but the leading theory remains that it was due to an ensuing drought. The previous time the storms stopped for a prolonged period was in 1906, after an enormous 8.8 magnitude earthquake disrupted the area and created a tsunami. That time, the storms ceased for three weeks.
While some mystery remains around this unusual tourism spot, seeing the storms for yourself would be similar to watching any other large and continuous thunderstorm. That being said, if you’re a weatherman looking for a kickback-and-relax job location, this is my number one recommendation.