Venezuela’s Everlasting Lightning Storm

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Image: Alan Highton

Lightning cracks through a deep purple sky over Catatumbo.

Forks of electricity lacerate the night sky, and a few seconds later thunder peals through the air. Most who witness this exhibition of nature’s might are left awestruck, and yet in this remote corner of South America such electric displays occur as a matter of course when the sun has gone down. Here, darkness rarely lasts long.

Alan Highton is a brave man, and his nickname, “The Lightning Man”, gives you some idea why. Highton is a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of electrical storms. In fact, he claims to have witnessed more lightning than anyone else in the world, and given the area where he spends much of his time, we’ve every reason to take his word for it.


Image: Alan Highton

Lightning forks down like the branches of a tree.

Most of us are lucky enough to witness a few good lightning storms a year. Yet here in Venezuela’s Catatumbo Delta, the sky lights up around 260 nights a year, according to some sources – 300, according to Highton – and for up to ten hours at a stretch. Close to 300 lightning bolts are also produced each hour. And all this in precisely the same area. Perfect if you’re a photographer who wants to capture images of spectacular lightning storms. Bewildering and slightly ominous for less intrepid visitors to the region.

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Image: Alan Highton

Lightning races from cloud to cloud amidst a beautiful mauve sky.

Lightning of course looks amazing, but it is also a deadly force of nature. “The storm often engulfs the villages and becomes dangerous,” Highton reveals. “The lightning rod on my camp is hit regularly.” Such frequent strikes in one locality sound like a menacing prospect to us.

Lightning strikes kill an estimated 24,000 people each year, injuring a further 240,000. With such statistics in mind, we wondered whether Highton had himself ever had any close encounters. “With my tripod, I’ve had lightning hit 50 meters away,” he told us. “I can only pray that luck will be with me in years to come.”

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