A 477-Mile-Long Lightning Bolt Just Set a World Record

Seeing a bolt of lightning up close is an awe-inspiring and terrifying experience. Especially if you’re near the beach or any sort of giant metal structure. Unless you’re a storm chaser or the Spider-Man villain Electro, chances are you’re not looking to be anywhere close to the rush of electricity exploding across the sky. One that is at least a few miles long. That a few miles sounds like quite a big bolt of lightning, but not only is that about average, it’s nothing compared to the Spring 2020 bolt that broke records. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has formally revealed that a bolt of lightning that lit up the sky in three states now holds the record for longest distance for a single flash.

A bolt of lightning strikes in Iowa
NOAA Weather in Focus Photo Contest 2015

Exactly how big was the flash? Just short of 500 miles. According to the WMO the lighting bolt flashed across 477.2 miles, reaching Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The bolt of lightning struck down on April 29, 2020. While, 477 miles sounds like quite a distance, to drive it home the WMO compared it as the distance from London to Hamburg, Germany. Which are not exactly next-door neighbors.

WMO’s Committee on Weather and Climate Extremes studied this sizable weather behavior using satellite technology. They published their findings in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. (We first saw this at Mashable.) In addition to the giant bolt of lightning that touched down in the US in April, it named another record-breaking bolt of lightning from 2020. On June 18, the longest duration of a flash occurred in Argentina. The bolt spanned a little over 17 seconds. For measure, that’s just barely outpacing Usain Bolt in a 200 meter dash.

However, while the flashes were record-breaking, their locations aren’t exactly too much of a surprise to scientists. They each occurred in “hotspots” for Mesoscale Convective System thunderstorms. In North America, it’s the Great Plains, while in South America it’s in the La Plata basin. Certainly something to think about should we ever embark on a storm chasing endeavor.

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