Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The World's Largest Lightning Storm In Venezuela Disappear For One Month

Can you imagine walking around at night as if it were daytime? For nearly half of the nights of the year, a continuous electric storm covers the skies over the southern tip of Lake Maracaibo, with such powerful – though nearly silent – flashes of lightning that for moments it almost seems like broad daylight. But the unique storm has already disappeared for one month this year and locals are worried it could vanish again...
Not everything is rosy though. Concern mounted in February when the storm disappeared for one month, the longest spell since 1906. El Niño was mostly responsible, as it caused intense droughts all over Venezuela. But man is also suspected of playing a part, as deforestation and intensive cattle farming are causing massive sedimentation in the swampy area where the unique meteorological phenomenon takes place.
Legend has it that when the dreaded British pirate Francis Drake prepared a raid on the port of Maracaibo in 1595 the lightning gave his ships away to the Spanish authorities. While the story of a surprise buccaneer attack could be false, it is no myth that the Catatumbo lightning – also known as the Lighthouse of Maracaibo – guides boats sailing in the area. The thunderstorm can be seen from 40 kilometres away, and often the bolts of lightning can be seen as far as Colombia or Aruba.

“Just imagine it: 28 bolts of lightning per minute, 8 hours per day and 140 to 160 days a year! There is simply nothing like it anywhere!”

Erik Quiroga is a Venezuelan environmentalist who has studied the Catatumbo lightning for years. He was also the main promoter of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer (September 16), adopted by the UN in 1995.

It’s an extraordinary sight: imagine standing in the middle of the dark night and, then, suddenly being in broad daylight once again. It’s like having a lighthouse at a height of 7 kilometres. It is also a very noble phenomenon, because you can be absolutely certain that you are safe and that lightning will not strike you.
These are cloud-to-cloud bolts of lightning, which are those that occur in the clouds at a great height, without making contact with the ground. These flashes carry an electric current of between 100,000 and 300,000 amperes, while an average cloud-to-land bolt carries between 10,000 and 50,000 amps.

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