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World record lightning flash confirmed to span parts of 3 states, including Louisiana

Satellite image of record extent of lightning flash over the southern United States on April...
Satellite image of record extent of lightning flash over the southern United States on April 29, 2020 that covered a horizontal distance of approximately 477 miles. The horizontal structure (white line segments) and maximum extent (gold X symbols) of this megaflash are overlaid.(NOAA/WMO)
Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 9:33 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2022 at 10:19 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Two new world record-setting lightning ‘megaflashes’ were confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Monday, Jan. 31 including one that traversed the skies over parts of south Louisiana. The records were announced by researchers after a rigorous review of both satellite and land-based lightning detection data.

Record-setting flash spanned nearly 500 miles

The new world record for longest-distance lightning flash now stands at 477 miles and stretched from near Corpus Christi, Texas across south Louisiana and into the skies over south Mississippi on the morning of April 29, 2020.

Satellite animation of record extent of lightning flash over the southern United States on...
Satellite animation of record extent of lightning flash over the southern United States on April 29, 2020 that covered a horizontal distance of approximately 477 miles.(NOAA)

These ‘megaflashes’ occur within the clouds several miles above the ground, although they can sometimes lead to the cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that probably first come to mind for most. The flash occurred in association with a cluster of storms known as a Mesoscale Convective System (MCS) moving south across the region and into the Gulf of Mexico. The detection was made possible by the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on board NOAA’s GOES-16 and GOES-17 satellites, located more than 22,000 miles above earth’s surface. Land-based lightning detection equipment located near Houston, TX also aided in mapping the flash.

The April 2020 flash beat the previous record of 440 miles that had occurred in Brazil on October 31, 2018. It is important to note, however, that detection of these far-reaching ‘megaflashes’ is still in its infancy and has largely been made possible by the GLMs included on satellites just in the last 5-6 years. It is quite possible that new records will continue to be established as more data becomes available and is analyzed.

Lightning density per U.S. county from 2015-2020. Credit: Vaisala
Lightning density per U.S. county from 2015-2020. Credit: Vaisala(Vaisala)

Separate record set in South America for longest-duration flash

The WMO committee responsible for verifying lightning records also confirmed a new record-duration flash occurred along the Argentina-Uruguay border. Once again using GLM data, researchers were able to show that a flash lasted for more than 17 seconds on June 18, 2020. This surpassed the previous record of 16.7 seconds that had been established over northern Argentina in March 2019.

Satellite image of record duration of lightning flash over Uruguay and Argentina on June 18,...
Satellite image of record duration of lightning flash over Uruguay and Argentina on June 18, 2020 with a 17.102 second duration. The horizontal structure (white line segments) and maximum extent (gold X symbols) of this megaflash are overlaid.(NOAA/WMO)
The World Meteorological Organization confirmed new records for lightning flash length and...
The World Meteorological Organization confirmed new records for lightning flash length and duration. The longest duration flash occurred near the border of Argentina and Uruguay on June 18, 2020. The longest distance flash stretched from Texas across Louisiana into Mississippi on April 29, 2020.(WMO)

Lightning hot spots

The locations of the two new world records shouldn’t be a surprise since both are among the most active globally when it comes to lightning frequency. Data gathered and maintained by technology company Vaisala consistently shows that the northern Gulf Coast and Louisiana rank near the top for lightning frequency in the United States. But even on a global scale, the Gulf Coast stands out as a lightning hot spot. The same can be said for much of South America, including large parts of Argentina and Uruguay, when it comes to lightning frequency.

Average global lightning density from 2016-2020.
Average global lightning density from 2016-2020.(Vaisala)

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