One stretched over Brazil some 418 miles from tip … The second lit up skies for 13.5 seconds over the central United States. Describing one of the flashes recorded in the latest study, Calhoun marvels, “it taps into a charge that’s in eastern Texas all the way into southern Arkansas in the same 10-second time period.”. The antenna on top of the 1535-foot (468-meter) tower caught fire in April 2010, and lightning was thought to … (Learn about the lightning that struck 48 times near the North Pole—and why that’s not normal. One evening while working, Michael Peterson found himself staring at an enormous spider. It tends to form in the trailing zone of large complex storm systems. The two satellites continually watch nearly half of the globe, from eastern Australia to Africa’s west coast, providing unprecedented amounts of information about the planet. 19 SEPTEMBER 2016. You also agree to our Terms of Service. One is now recognized as the longest recorded lightning strike in history and the other is certified as the greatest duration. Calhoun agrees, noting that the latest work demonstrates just how active storms can be. (Official data aren’t kept for the flash with the largest area, so it's not possible to determine if it set a record. Still, the latest study not only offers an exciting peek into the vast untapped data streaming back to our planet, it raises important questions about lightning safety. A thunderstorm looms over southern Brazil and Uruguay in this computer-rendered view. Ground-based systems, like the one that identified the past record-holding lightning, monitors for radiation in a swath of the sky and charts high-resolution, three-dimensional lightning maps. According to the National Weather Service, lightning strikes the U.S. about 25 million times a year, killing an average of 49 people and severely … Because of this real-time data feed, lightning can become too complex for the processing system. That means when lightning finally crackles across the sky, it’s colossal. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. It also confirmed a lightning strike that lasted 7.74 seconds over Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, in 2012. A combination of both methods will likely provide the best look into lightning structure and physics. Another bolt lit up over northern Argentina on March 4, 2019, for a whopping 16.73 seconds, setting a record for the longest recorded duration of a lightning strike. We rely on readers like you to uphold a free press. A bolt of lightning strikes the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai, China. The United Nation's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has just announced that the longest lightning strike on record was a 2007 bolt in Oklahoma that stretched 321 km (200 miles) - almost reaching from one side of the state to the other. In 2018 alone, the system recorded some 360 million lightning flashes across the Americas, beaming back data to ground-based processors that crunch numbers in real time. This content is currently not available in your region. It also confirmed a lightning strike that lasted 7.74 seconds over Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, in 2012. But farther away from this volatile zone is a more stable area known as the stratiform region. And the data is a proving ground for Peterson’s new automated processing system, published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, which tackles the most complex lightning data beamed back from space. Learn how thunderstorms form, what causes lightning and thunder, and how these violent phenomena help balance the planet's energy and electricity. These monster flashes arrive after it appears to people on the ground that the storm has subsided, Peterson notes. It’s vital to understand just how volatile storm clouds are, Calhoun adds. These eyes in the sky will help us not only better understand meteorological hazards but also long-term patterns in weather, tightening researchers’ grasp on the links between storm evolution and our changing climate. The result: spidery multi-limbed flashes of lightning. Amidst the lashing rains and lightning strikes, a photographer managed to capture on video the moment a bolt of lightning struck the tallest building in the world - the Burj Khalifa. But Peterson, a remote sensing scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, wasn’t looking at a critter of the eight-legged variety. But then a spidery beast could suddenly scurry across the sky, crossing state borders in a matter of seconds. The lightning in this image is around 160 miles long, roughly a third the size of the newly reported record-breaking flash. As lightning propagates, it deposits some of its charge, she explains, which changes the electric field and can often spark a second flash. All of these bits—ice shards, droplets, and the slushy ice between—jostle for position. Here, the charge builds slowly over a much broader area. This map shows the largest lightning flash spotted in the satellite data. That strike now holds the record for the longest-duration lightning flash. On October 31, 2018, a spidery web of lightning unfurled over Brazil, stretching 440 miles across the sky—a length roughly equivalent to the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. The furthest reported distance record has been confirmed as a lightning bolt over Oklahoma in June 2007, which covered a horizontal distance of … “Even if you don’t see lightning happening, there could be a lot activity going on above you.”, Image by Michael Peterson, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Record-breaking lightning as long as Kansas spotted. It was so big, in fact, that it's prompted calls for a rewrite of the official definition of a lightning strike - seeing as before this, it was assumed that … (Learn about a particularly strange type of lightning that forms in a ball.). It's official, the United States can no longer brag about hosting the longest lightning strike ever recorded. His analysis revealed two record-breaking lightning flashes, the longest by length and by duration. It may no longer be raining; perhaps the lightning has paused. This causes some to gain a positive charge and others a negative one, each collecting in different zones of the system. We use cookies and other technologies to customize your experience, perform analytics and deliver personalized advertising on our sites, apps and newsletters and across the Internet based on your interests. “The biggest challenge is also the biggest benefit,” Peterson says. But these latest mega-flashes “are now essentially pushing the boundary further for what lightning can be.”. In 2007, a flash 200 miles long stretched over Oklahoma, and in 2012, a 7.74-second long flash lit up skies over southern France. For the new analysis, Peterson turned to data collected across the Americas in 2018 by the GOES-16 and GOES-17 satellites, which zip around some 22,000 miles above the ground. The largest lightning discharge in recorded history occurred on Oct. 31, 2018, in southern Brazil, although the flash stretched from eastern Argentina all the way to the Atlantic. That claim now belongs to Brazil, whose southern skies were ablaze with jagged arcs of electricity back on Halloween Night, October 31, 2018, when a single 440-mile-long bolt blazed out of the spooky, supercharged … A third lightning flash over the southern United States sprawled some 44,400 square miles—nearly the area of Ohio. The bar along the bottom shows how the energies and sizes of individual pulses change over time. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- While you may envision lightning as largely vertical, spider lightning races horizontally through the clouds. At any moment, about 2,000 thunderstorms are occurring worldwide. Such events form due to instability in the atmosphere—often when warm, wet air collides with cool, dry air, boosting the warm air into the sky. As the air rises, its temperature plunges, causing droplets of condensation and eventually shards of ice to form. By clicking “I agree” below, you consent to the use by us and our third-party partners of cookies and data gathered from your use of our platforms. While the record-breaking flashes he discovered still require official certification by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, they both roughly doubled the past record holders. “At first glance, it looks pretty impressive to me what’s been done here to really pull out things that were not fully represented in the operational data stream,” says Edward Mansell, a physical scientist at the NOAA Severe Storms Laboratory. That strike now holds the record for the longest-duration lightning flash. It then flags the broken flashes as degraded, so many researchers discard them during analyses. Please enable cookies on your web browser in order to continue. See our, Read a limited number of articles each month, You consent to the use of cookies and tracking by us and third parties to provide you with personalized ads, Unlimited access to on any device, Unlimited access to all Washington Post apps, No on-site advertising or third-party ad tracking.