Name: The Beacon of Maracaibo, Catatumbo lightning or ‘The Everlasting Storm’
Location: North-West Venezuela where the mouth of the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo
What is it exactly? This area boasts the highest concentration of lightning anywhere in the world with 250 lightning flashes per square kilometre each year, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Some nights you can see an average of 28 lightning flashes every single minute.
Tell me more: At certain times of the year (and most commonly around October during peak rainy season), a combination of topography and wind patterns means that powerful thunderstorms are far more likely to form. In this particular spot, the largest lake in South America meets the Caribbean Sea whilst being surrounded by the Andes mountains. The heat of the day sees water evaporate from the lake and adjoining areas and, when night falls, inshore winds from the sea push any warm air up into the cold air descending from the mountain peaks. This results in the formation of towering cumulonimbus storm clouds (the types that pilots are keen to avoid). Lightening forms when water drops in the rising warm air then encounter the ice crystals in the mountain air creating spectacular static charges.
Interesting factoid: Given this phenomenon can be seen up to 400km away, it’s no surprise that the lightning flashes have been used as navigation aids by soldiers and sailors in the dim and distant past.
The storms have also literally shed light on dastardly deeds, such as exposing a surprise night-time attack on Spanish soldiers by Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and drawing unwanted attention to Spanish soldiers creeping onto the shore at Maracaibo hoping to clandestinely reconquer Venezuela during the War of Independence.
You’ve piqued my interest. How can I see this for myself? Join a guided tour setting off from the popular town of Merida which can be reached by air from Caracas (one hour), bus (8 – 10 hours) or car (9 – 11 hours).
Website: There’s no particular website dedicated to the phenomenon but more information can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150810-the-most-electric-place-on-earth