700 Kilometre Megaflash In Brazil Sets New Lightning World Record

Lucy Connolly


700 Kilometre Megaflash Sets New Lightning World RecordShutterstock

You might have thought the thunderstorms lighting up the skies in recent weeks were record-breaking. After all, they were certainly loud enough.

It turns out though, that while they might have been loud enough to distract you from work or keep you from sleeping, they sadly didn’t break any world records – unlike one that took place in Brazil in 2018.

That particular storm set the new world record for the longest lightning bolt after it split the sky on October 31, 2018, in Southern Brazil, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed.

lighting bolt in Sao Paulo s skyPA Images

Stretching out for 709 kilometres (440 miles) – about the distance from London to the border of Switzerland near Basel – the lightning bolt has now been recorded as the ‘world’s greatest extent for a single lightning flash’, according to the WMO’s Committee on Weather and Climate Extremes.

That wasn’t the only record-breaker the UN’s weather agency announced either; the record for the longest duration of a lightning flash was smashed too, thanks to a 16.7-second-long ‘megaflash’ that occurred over northern Argentina on March 4, 2019.

Both records completely wiped the floor with their predecessors by more than double; the previous distance record was 321 kilometres (199 miles) in Oklahoma in 2007, and the previous duration record was 7.74 seconds over Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, in August 2012.

Professor Randall Cerveny, chief rapporteur of Weather and Climate Extremes for WMO and co-author of the study confirming these findings in Geophysical Research Letters, said:

These are extraordinary records from single lightning flash events. Environmental extremes are living measurements of what nature is capable, as well as scientific progress in being able to make such assessments.

It is likely that even greater extremes still exist, and that we will be able to observe them as lightning detection technology improves.

This will provide valuable information for establishing limits to the scale of lightning – including megaflashes – for engineering, safety and scientific concerns

Brazil: Lightening in SorocabaPA Images

Previously, lightning was tracked using data from ground-based sensors called Lightning Mapping Array networks, which detect radio waves. However, there was an upper limit to the scale of lightning that could be traced using these.

Scientists therefore acknowledged that tracking more extreme lightning would require a scale-up of the technology, and in 2016 the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched the world’s first lightning-mapping satellite.

It was this lightning-mapping tool, which allows scientists to monitor Earth’s weather 24/7, that recorded the two new records. Here’s hoping it provides us with some more record-breaking insights in the years to come.

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Topics: Science, Brazil, Climate, lightning, Now, storm, weather, world record


World Meteorological Organization and 1 other
  1. World Meteorological Organization

    WMO certifies Megaflash lightning extremes

  2. Geophysical Research Letters

    New WMO Certified Megaflash Lightning Extremes for Flash Distance (709 km) and Duration (16.73 seconds) recorded from Space

Lucy Connolly
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