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477-mile lightning bolt across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi sets new world record

This satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/TNS)

A single lightning bolt that stretched nearly 500  miles — crossing three U.S. states — has been certified as the world’s longest lightning strike.

On Tuesday, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced the certification of two new world records for “megaflashes of lightning” in hotspots in North and South America.

According to WMO’s Committee on Weather and Climate Extremes, on April 29, 2020, a single flash covered a horizontal distance of 477 miles on April 29, 2020 — over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — setting a new record of “longest reported distance for a single lightning flash.”

That’s equivalent to the distance between New York City and Columbus, Ohio.

The previous record, 440.6 miles, had been recorded in Brazil in 2018.

The other record-breaking strike was recorded in Uruguay and Argentina, and it also took place in 2020.

It set a new world record for “longest reported duration for a single lightning flash” at 17.1 seconds. The previous record,  16.7 seconds, had been recorded in Argentina in 2019.

“These are extraordinary records from single lightning flash events,” Professor Randall Cerveny, rapporteur of Weather and Climate Extremes for WMO, said in a statement.

“Environmental extremes are living measurements of the power of nature, as well as scientific progress in being able to make such assessments. It is likely that even greater extremes still exist, and that we will be able to observe them as lightning detection technology improves,” he added.

Both lightning strikes took place several thousand feet above the ground, which means that no one was in danger.

But, according to WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas, “lightning is a major hazard that claims many lives every year.”

He added that the findings are important in highlighting concerns over “electrified clouds where flashes can travel extremely large distances.”

Lightning specialist Ron Holle, a member of the WMO committee, added that “these extremely large and long-duration lightning events were not isolated but happened during active thunderstorms. Any time there is thunder heard it is time to reach a lightning-safe place.”

The WMO is an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland that originated from the International Meteorological Organization. It has a membership of 193 U.N. member states and territories.


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