The everlasting lightning storm in Catatumbo is a marvel we have never known.
The winds speed up as night falls on the salty Lake Maracaibo shoreline, and a bolt of lightning smashes across the hazy night sky. It’s a common sight for people to witness the everlasting lightning storm, that may be seen almost every day a year at roughly the same time and location.
On Venezuela’s northern shore, where the Catatumbo River empties into Lake Maracaibo, this peculiar occurrence takes place. Since the lightning is so reliable, mariners have used it as a waypoint for generations and have come to refer to it as the Maracaibo Beacon or Catatumbo Lightning.
The Catatumbo Lightning sometimes referred to as the Beacon of Maracaibo or the “everlasting storm,” is a seasonal lightning storm that occurs in and around the 13,200-square-kilometer Lake Maracaibo in northern Venezuela. The area has about 300 stormy nights each year.
In fact, it is believed to also have aided Venezuelan warships in their triumph over Spain during the country’s 1823 War of Independence. It usually starts around an hour following nightfall and can last for nine hours straight, striking up to 28 times each minute. It sometimes lasts so long that it briefly transforms night into day.
There are more thunderstorms in Lake Maracaibo than anywhere else in the world, with over 1.2 million happening annually (250 flashes per square kilometer per year). It has been the subject of several investigations due to the unusual atmospheric behavior, the weird everlasting lightning storm.
Why does the everlasting lightning storm occur?
The storm happens in a similar way as any other lightning strikes occur in the world; above Lake Maracaibo, moist air collides with warm, rising air to generate unstable circumstances that result in an electric field. You can check the BBC video about the same.
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The geography of the area, however, is the sole cause of the Catatumbo Lightning’s regularity and intensity. With its northern shore emptying into the Gulf of Venezuela, Lake Maracaibo is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges. A steady supply of warm water from the Caribbean Sea is brought in to this area, where it mixes with moisture that evaporates from the lake. The Maracaibo Basin Nocturnal Low-Level Jet, which originates just 1 km above the lake when the Sun sets, is a fast ribbon of air.
By doing so, the warm, humid air flows over Lake Maracaibo and more towards its southern shore. It suddenly loses out of alternatives as it approaches the mountains and is propelled quickly upwards. As a result of the interaction between rising warm air and ice crystals, which causes an electrostatic, huge convective clouds are formed.