A lightning bolt during an electrical storm is a thing of wonder. Seeing it light up the sky and then waiting for the thunder is exciting and potentially dangerous.
But did you know there are different types of lightning? And there’s even a world record for the longest lightning strike.
We’ve got all sorts of lightning info for you, from the various types and how to stay safe to the world record strike.
Let’s jump in!
Massive Texas Lightning Strike Breaks World Record
On April 29, 2020, a lightning bolt that measured over 475 miles in length struck across Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This is about the distance from New York City to Columbus, Ohio.
The World Meteorological Organization announced the new world record on February 7, 2022. The event was a cloud-to-cloud lightning flash, lighting the sky thousands of feet above the ground.
The phenomenon happens when a negatively charged cloud attracts a positively charged cloud. Never striking the ground, it travels from one cloud to another.
The previous world record was a mega flash over Brazil that measured just over 441 miles. The same year there was a new world record for the longest duration of lightning. It hit Uruguay and northern Argentina during a thunderstorm in June 2020. The flash lasted 17 seconds
What Are the Biggest Types of Lightning?
Lightning occurs when a strong positive charge forms within a cloud and a strong negative charge develops somewhere else. This could be another cloud, the ground, or the air surrounding it.
However, there are different types of lighting, and they’re not all created equally. Let’s look at the three biggest and see which is the most dangerous.
According to lightning scientists, mega flashes are at least 100 kilometers long and don’t occur in ordinary thunderstorms. They’re formed by a Mesoscale Convective System (MCS.)
An MCS is a collection of thunderstorms that act as a system but rarely produce lightning at extreme levels. These unusual storms are seldom detected.
These storms discharge at low enough rates to allow for single cloud-to-cloud flashes. These bolts can spread across an entire state and last over 12 hours.
A casual observer wouldn’t know a bolt stretched more than 400 miles across multiple states.
However, technological improvements have allowed scientists to observe extreme lightning in more places around the globe.
Additionally, new data could help scientists understand how and why a mega flash happens.
Gigantic Jet Lightning
Another mystery in the study of lightning is bolts known as gigantic jet lightning. As the name suggests, these are powerful bursts of electrical energy emitted by storm clouds.
However, they don’t go down to the ground but to the ionosphere. Gigantic jet lightning is a growing group of short-lived events in the upper atmosphere during storms.
Exactly how and why they occur remains unknown. This is because, at that altitude, it’s more challenging to observe them. Scientists require further work and data to shed more light on this lightning mystery.
Experts have been scratching their heads since the late 1970s over a rare type of lightning called superbolts. These are the most powerful lightning on Earth. In fact, the discharges are so intense that technicians can’t reproduce them in the lab.
These mysterious bolts display geographic and seasonal attributes opposite that of regular lightning. Scientists have no idea why they occur more often in winter and over water. Typically, lightning strikes in the summertime and over land.
With so much unknown, scientists are using satellites to study the unusual attributes of superbolts. A 2020 study showed that superbolts are up to 1,000 times brighter than regular lightning.
Pro Tip: Have you gotten caught RVing in a storm? Find out Can the Wind Flip an RV?
Where is the Lightning Capital of the World?
There are many places in the USA that experience a lot of lightning. Oklahoma and Florida come to mind. The lightning capital of the USA is the community of MacDill on the Tampa Bay peninsula in Florida.
However, they pale in comparison to Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. The lake is in the Andes Mountains and is the largest lake in South America.
Storms commonly form at night as mountain breezes form over the warm, moist air of the lake. These unique conditions create persistent deep convection that results in an average of 297 nighttime thunderstorms per year.
This makes Lake Maracaibo the lightning capital of the world.
Who Holds the World Record for Surviving Lightning Strikes?
The Guinness Book of World records lists Roy Cleveland Sullivan as the person struck by lightning more times than any other human.
Born February 7, 1912, Roy was a United States park ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
From 1912 to 1983, Sullivan survived seven bolts of lightning. Officials couldn’t verify an additional strike during his childhood.
Earning the nicknames Human Lightning Conductor and Human Lightning Rod, another bizarre fact of Roy’s life was that the fact he also fought 22 bears.
The odds of getting hit by lightning are about one in 1.2 million in the US. Assuming you live to 80, that goes down to one in fifteen thousand.
For Sullivan, it’s not as simple as multiplying the odds. He worked outside in a national park in a state with a relatively high number of thunderstorms. His chances were exponentially higher.
How to Avoid Being a Lightning Strike Victim
It’s possible to avoid being hit by lightning if you know what to do. Let’s look at some things you can do to protect yourself.
Don’t get caught outside. During a thunderstorm, no place outside is safe. Get inside as soon as you hear thunder. A large structure or metal-roofed vehicle is your safest bet.
If you can’t get to a protected building or vehicle, try to avoid open areas. Don’t be the tallest object in the area. Lightning tends to strike taller objects. So stay away from tall trees, towers, and utility poles.
Metal doesn’t attract lightning, but lightning can travel long distances through it. This makes metal conductors such as wires or fences a hazard.
If you’re with a group of people, spread out. Although this increases the chance of someone getting struck, it can prevent multiple casualties. If someone does get hit, the chances that one of your group can call for help increase.
Pro Tip: RVing in bad weather can be terrifying! Read more about the nightmare that is RVing in the Snow.
Lightning only kills about 10% of the people it strikes. Unfortunately, the other 90% experience various degrees of disability. Quick fact. From 2009-2018, the U.S. averaged 27 lightning fatalities per year.
While lightning is beautiful, it can be hazardous. The good news is that technological advancements help scientists better understand lightning behavior and measure strikes more accurately.
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