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Huge lightning bolt spanning 3 U.S. states sets record

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It’s not quite the right time to debunk that myth about lightning never striking the same place twice, as an enormous bolt has set a new global record.

The longest single flash of lightning has been captured by satellites of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recorded and announced by the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday.

The “megaflash” stretched 768 kilometres (give or take 8 kilometres) or 477.2 miles (give or take 5 miles) across parts of the southern U.S. including Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi on April 29, 2020.

Satellite image of the lightning flash over the southern United States on Apr. 29, 2020.
Credit: WMO

The flash in question measures as long as the distance between New York City and Columbus Ohio. Or if you want another, between London and Hamburg.

The previous record was 60 kilometres shorter, recorded across the sky in southern Brazil on (fittingly) Halloween in 2018.

It’s actually one of two records broken, with the greatest duration for a single lightning flash of 17.102 seconds (give or take 0.002 seconds) recorded in thunderstorm over Uruguay and northern Argentina on June 18, 2020. This lengthy flash broke the previous record by a mere 0.37 seconds, also measured over northern Argentina on March 4, 2019.

Count out 17 seconds right now, I’ll wait.

Satellite image of the lightning flash over Uruguay and Argentina on June 18, 2020.

Satellite image of the lightning flash over Uruguay and Argentina on June 18, 2020.
Credit: WMO

The new records were captured by NOAA’s latest GOES-16/17 satellites which use geostationary lightning mappers (GLMs) to monitor extreme lightning continuously over the western hemisphere up to 55⁰ latitude.

The findings were published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society on Tuesday by the WMO’s Committee on Weather and Climate Extremes, which keeps the organisation’s records of global extremes associated with different weather types.

“These extremely large and long-duration lightning events were not isolated but happened during active thunderstorms,” committee member Ron Holle said in a press statement. “Any time there is thunder heard it is time to reach a lightning-safe place.”

If the WMO isn’t cranking up AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” today, they’re doing it wrong.

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