Feb 1, 2022 - Science

Scientists confirm record-breaking 17 second lightning strike

An image of the storms that produced the longest lightning flash capture by a NOAA satellite from April 29, 2020.

An image of the storms that produced the longest lightning flash capture by a NOAA satellite from April 29, 2020. Photo: NOAA

Scientists recorded a single lightning flash lasting 17.1 seconds in June of 2020 over Uruguay and northern Argentina, becoming the longest lasting lightning flash ever recorded, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced.

Why it matters: The strike was one of two new new lightning-related world records established by the WMO on Monday, the other being a lightning strike that covered around 477 miles in the southern U.S. on April 29, 2020.

  • The WMO's Committee on Weather and Climate Extremes uses weather satellites to maintain official records of global, hemispheric and regional weather extremes.

By the numbers: The distance of the April strike is equivalent to the distance between New York City and Columbus, Ohio, or between London and the German city of Hamburg and was 60 km longer than the previous record.

  • The previous longest duration flash was 16.7 seconds.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: Thanks to new observing platforms, scientists are gaining new insights into how lightning forms, its many varieties and the impressive characteristics it can exhibit.

  • The satellite-mounted Global Lightning Mapper is one of the tools allowing researchers to track lightning from above, in addition to ground-based sensors. These newly certified records, in fact, could be eclipsed soon due to the new observing capabilities.

What they're saying: “These are extraordinary records from single lightning flash events. 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,” Randall Cerveny, rapporteur of weather and climate extremes for the WMO, said in a statement.

The big picture: Both of the rec0rd-setting strikes occurred in hotspots notorious for extremely large thunderstorm systems in North and South America.

Go deeper: Extreme weather could get even worse in 2022

Go deeper