Ads are being blocked

For us to continue writing great stories, we need to display ads.

Un-block Learn more


Please select the extension that is blocking ads.

Ad Block Plus Ghostery uBlock Other Blockers

Please follow the steps below

Scientists Crown the Lightning Capital of the World

Nocturnal thunderstorms occur almost 300 days of the year on Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Lightning crackles over Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela in this long-exposure shot from 2014. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Astraphobes who dive under their beds at the first rumblings of a storm should stay away from Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, as it’s just been verified as the most lightning-cursed place on the planet.

Researchers from Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo, NASA, and elsewhere poured through 16 years of space observations to give this honorific to what some call South America’s biggest lake (technically, it’s more of a bay or lagoon). Thunderstorms occur an average of 297 nights a year, triggered by a “deep nocturnal convection driven by locally forced convergent flow,” according to a study in this month’s Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Here’s more from the society’s blog:

Imagine being awoken late one night by the near constant glow of lightning overhead—often flickering silently but occasionally rumbling deeply with a strike nearby. Then it happens the same time the next night—and the next, and the next, sometimes lasting for many hours at a time.

Now imagine the nocturnal fireworks happening nearly 300 days per year....

Storms mostly form during the nighttime hours, after the tropical heating of the day allows warm Caribbean air to mix with colder Andes Mountain air. According to the [study], “Nocturnal thunderstorms over Lake Maracaibo are so frequent that their lightning activity was used as a lighthouse by Caribbean navigators in colonial times.”

Last year, Guinness World Records announced Lake Maracaibo had the world’s highest concentration of lightning; this new study gives peer-reviewed weight to the claim. The previous champion of lightning flashes, the town of Kifuka in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now comes in at second place with about 158 bolts zapping each square kilometer a year.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.