Natural Disasters

South America witnessed extreme lightning strikes in 2018, 2019: WMO

While a strike in Brazil travelled the longest distance, one in Argentina lasted for the longest duration recorded till now  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 26 June 2020
Brazil and Argentina set world records in 2018 and 2019 respectively after recording lightning strikes that travelled the farthest and lasted the longest. Photo: pikist.com__

Brazil recorded a lightning strike that travelled a distance of 709 kilometres, while Argentina recorded a strike that lasted for 16.73 seconds, the World Meteorological Organization  (WMO) declared recently.

The Brazilian flash of lightning occurred in the southern part of the country on October 31, 2018. The country has the highest incidence of lightning in the world — an average of 77.8 million strikes per year.

The distance travelled by the lightning strike was the same as the distance between Boston and Washington, DC in the United States or between London and Basel in Europe, the WMO said.

The previous record for the longest detected distance for a single lightning flash was for 321 km on June 20, 2007, across the US state of Oklahoma.  

The Argentine flash of lightning took place over the northern part of the country on March 4, 2019. The previous record was a single lightning flash that lasted continuously for 7.74 seconds on August 30, 2012 over Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France.

The findings of the United Nations weather agency, were published in the journal American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters ahead of International Lightning Safety Day on June 28. The findings have been verified with new satellite lightning imagery technology.

The lightning flashes that have now entered the record books are known as ‘Megaflashes’ in scientific parlance.

“They are defined as horizontal mesoscale lightning discharges that reach hundreds of kilometres in length,” Michael J Peterson, the lead author of the WMO report, was quoted as saying.

The global extremes in lightning duration and horizontal distance were established in 2017 by an international panel of atmospheric lightning scientists and engineers assembled by the WMO.

Lightning strikes in India

The WMO’s findings come even as 92 people were killed in lightning strikes in Bihar on June 25, 2020.

The state is second after Uttar Pradesh with the maximum number of deaths due to lightning. At least 170 people died in Bihar due to lightning in 2019 between April 1 and July 31.

The number of lightning days across India have been increasing significantly every month, according to the report of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) released in September 2019. In fact, lightning strikes kill more people in India than any other extreme weather event

Such fatalities could be avoided if states share IMD’s forecast on lightning with people on time.

If the time between a lightning flash and thunder is less than 30 seconds, people should stay indoors and wait 30 minutes after the last observed flash to resume outdoor activities, according to the WMO.

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