Venezuela’s Everlasting Lightning Storm

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Image: Alan Highton

Not all lightning makes it down to earth.

Nobody is certain why there is so much lightning in Catatumbo. One theory is that it may be because of the wall of mountains that surrounds the area. It is suggested that when the warm winds of the Caribbean spill into the bowl created by these peaks, known as the Maracaibo Basin, they run into the much cooler winds flowing down from the Andes. The collision of the two air currents creates the perfect conditions for a thunderstorm – especially when you add the moisture evaporating from the basin’s Maracaibo Lake into the mix.


Image: Alan Highton

A spectator enjoys the show.

Yet this combination of air currents of contrasting temperatures and water evaporated by the sun may not be the sole cause of the constant lightning in Catatumbo. The Maracaibo Basin also lies on top of a massive oil field, and with that oil comes methane. It is thought that the methane bubbling up through the lake and rising into the air may provide a little extra kick – increased conductivity – to help create the high-frequency lightning storms.

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Image: Alan Highton

Dark black rain clouds ominously follow the lightning.

However, not everyone views this heady mix as the reason behind Catatumbo’s lightning storms; some see matters more simply. “My own opinion is [that] there is a very intense low pressure in this entire basin,” Highton has said. “As night falls and this causes these towering clouds in several different places, you can get six or seven lightning storms around you at the same time.”

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