Venezuela’s Strange and Unusual Catatumbo Lightning


Most of us grew up being taught that lightning never strikes the same place twice. However, it turns out that Mother Nature proves that this saying is untrue. There is a place in Venezuela where a specific spot on a particular lake attracts about 1.2 million lightning bolts every year. That means 28 lightning strikes on that said spot every minute, and each lightning has enough energy that can power about 100 million light bulbs. This strange but spectacular phenomenon is known as the Catatumbo lightning, and the electric spot is located at the Catatumbo River, where it empties Lake Maracaibo. This place is known to be the most lightning-struck place on earth. In this article, we are going to know more about Catatumbo lightning and why on earth it is happening there.

What is the Catatumbo Lightning?

Catatumbo lightning is also called as Venezuela’s eternal thunderstorm. It doesn’t actually strike nonstop, however over the past decades, the lightning episodes occluded about 150 a year. Sometimes, it even lasts for as long as 10 hours a day, with about 300 lightning strikes every hour. Experts say that the storm occurs approximately three miles above the surface of the water is a perfect storm because it is composed of cold and warm air currents, which is why the lightning is formed. Researchers also believe that the presence of methane also affects the occurrence of lightning. This is because the area where the lightning occurs has large regional oil deposits as well as prevalent swampland, which emits gas in large quantities.

The lightning episodes are usually active during September and October, and it is least busy from January to February. The Catatumbo lightning phenomenon can light up the sky to 400 km away. Still, the sound of its accompanying thunder does not reach anyone but its immediate witnesses.

Why is the Catatumbo Lightning Consistent?

Scientist says that the convective available potential energy, as well as the Maracaibo basin nocturnal low-level jet, is the one responsible for the daily occurrence of lightning in the area. The Maracaibo basin creates a swift of current air which flows then recedes like a tide in between the surface of the lake and the bottom of the clouds. After that, it transports moisture from the lake and the Caribbean to the southwest basin, and it interacts with the mountain ranges. Experts believe that the low-level jet is one factor that contributes to the daily lightning activity because it generally occurs at the same time every day.

When Can You Witness the Catatumbo Lightning?

Before you plan and book your trip to Venezuela to see the Catatumbo lightning, make sure that you are aware of the fact that it is not only eternal, its presence above the Catatumbo River Delta has not been unbroken. It was only during the first four months of 2010 when the lightning phenomenon stopped entirely. Still, it is because of the drought that overtook the location. But after that, the lightning phenomenon has been persistent since then.

Keep in mind that even if you are lucky enough to go and visit during the period when the Catatumbo lightning is in high activity, lightning often occurs at a different time each day. But if you really want to witness its most spectacular show, we suggest that you go there during the night. You will need to consider all of these if you are planning to see Venezuela’s eternal thunderstorm.

How to See the Catatumbo Lightning

If you are brave enough to go and see the Catatumbo lightning personally, then the best option that you could choose is to go on a guided tour that pairs the display of the lightning with other opportunities to explore the surrounding such as seeing colorful birds, river dolphins, howler monkeys, and butterflies. There are guided tours that also allows you to explore the authentic Andean villages in Jaji and La Azulita.

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