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Shazam! Two world-record lightning events recognised

One streaked across 750km of sky, the other set a duration record

The World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations' weather watching agency, has certified two new world records for lightning.

The organisation measures two qualities of lightning: duration of a flash, and distance for a single flash.

In 2016 the outfit awarded world records to a flash that blasted across France for 7.74 seconds in 2012, and a bolt that traversed 321km in the skies above Oklahoma in 2007.

A review of lightning records saw both eclipsed with the 2020 certification of new records recorded in South America.

The longest duration flash record went to an event that lasted 16.73 seconds over northern Argentina on 4 March 2019. The long-distance flash record fell to a 709km event above Brazil in 2018.

Today the Organization announced new records.

Uruguay and northern Argentina teamed on a 17.102 second flash in June 2020, to take the long duration crown. The USA took back its long-distance title with a 768km flash recorded in April 2020. Neither event touched the ground, instead discharging their responsibilities in the atmosphere.

World Meteorological Organization new lightning records

The record flashes tracked by the WMO.
Click to enlarge

The WMO made no mention of the new records being linked to Earth's changing climate. Instead the new records are the result of using space-based observations, rather than the previous ground-based methods. By looking down from above, lightning boffins see more events than was possible with terrestrial observations.

Helping matters further is that some satellites carry dedicated lightning-spotting kit.

The record events were observed in locations known to be very prone to lightning - which it turns out does strike the same place twice.

The Organization also collects rather grim stats about lightning. For instance the deadliest bolt known, which killed 21 people who sought shelter from the storm in a Zimbabwean hut in 1975. And in 1994, 469 people were killed in the Egyptian town of Dronka "when lightning struck a set of oil tanks, causing burning oil to flood the town." ®

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