If one likes lightning storms, then the most extreme lightning place on earth is Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. It has so much lightning that it is known as the lightning capital of the world. So much lightning lights up Lake Maracaibo, that sailors used to use it to guide their ships and it earned itself the nickname "Lighthouse of Maracaibo."
Venezuela is a very beautiful country and rich in many things. One can enjoy its tropical beaches, lush rainforests, and intense displays of lightning. Venezuela has more than just the craziest lightning hotspot in the world, it also boasts Angel Falls - the highest waterfalls in the world.
Lake Maracaibo and Its Unique Geography
Lake Maracaibo is a large brackish tidal bay (aka a tidal estuary) and is variously thought of as a lake, bay, or lagoon. In the past, it was once a true lake and the largest in South America as well as being one of the oldest lakes on Earth - some 20-36 million years old.
Largest: It Is the Largest Lake In South America
Oldest: Lake Maracaibo Is One of The Oldest Lakes On Earth
The lake is famous for its weather phenomenon called Catatumbo lightning which makes Lake Maracaibo produce more lightning than anywhere else on earth. If one is a lightning enthusiast, consider adding this to a future itinerary.
The lightning is thought to be the result of winds blowing across the lake and the surrounding swampy plains. The air masses meet the high mountain ranges of the Andes, the Perijá Mountains, and Mérida's Cordillera. These ranges enclose the plain below from three sides.
Mountain Ranges: Towering Mountain Ranges Hem The Lake In From Three Sides Trapping The Air
Heat and moisture are collected across the low plains and create electrical charges with the end result being many thunderstorms. There is almost continuous lightning (mostly within the clouds).
The area around the lake is also particularly rich in oil and vast quantities have been removed from this region.
The "Lighthouse of Maracaibo"
Since early explorers, Lake Maracaibo has been known as the "Lighthouse of Maracaibo" and its lightning is visible for miles around. It may come as a surprise but the first colonists of Venezalua were not the Spanish but rather the Germans.
Guinness World Record: Lake Maracaibo Holds The Record For The Highest Concentration of Lightning
It was the Germans who named the colony "Klein-Venedig" or "Little Venice" - that the Spanish later changed to Venezuela. German activity here lasted from 1528 to 1546 and Venezuela was the most significant part of German colonization of the Americas (there were some others). But eventually the Spanish took over.
The Italian geographer Agustin Codazzi said of the phenomenon in 1841 it was:
"like a continuous lightning, and its position such that, located almost on the meridian of the mouth of the lake, it directs the navigators as a lighthouse."
Earth And Its Displays of Lightning
According to a study, Africa has the most lightning hotspots in the world, followed by Asia, South America, North America, and Australia (not much happening in Europe).
On average the earth produces around 44 flashes of lightning every second annually. It produces the most (around 55 flashes per second) in the boreal summer and the least (around 35 flashes per second) in the austral summer.
On average, Lake Maracaibo has some 233 flashes per square kilometer every year with thousands occurring per night. Often there is no thunder - just lightning. And the lightning occurs in around 300 nights in the year with September being the peak month.
Average Flashes: 233 Flashes per Square Kilometer Every Year
Average Days: On Average There Is Lightning 297 Days a Year
Peak Month: September
Visiting: Due To Severe Economic Problems In Venezuela, One Should Check With The Current Travel Advice Before Visiting
Unfortunately, for the last 10 years or so, Venezuela has been on people's list of countries they would never visit. But hopefully in the future things will change and the country will be safe to visit again. It is a very rewarding country to explore.
Here are the top lightning spots in the world by flash rate density - unfortunately the next two highest are also in places difficult to visit.
- Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela: 232.52
- Kabare, Dem. Rep. of Congo: 205.31
- Kampene, Dem. Rep. of Congo: 176.71
- Caceres, Colombia: 172.29
- Sake, Dem. Rep. of Congo: 143.21
- Daggar, Pakistan: 143.11
- El Tarra, Colombia: 138.61
- Nguti, Cameroon: 129.58
- Butembo, Dem. Rep. of Congo: 129.50
- Boende, Dem. Rep. of Congo: 127.52
So for the greatest density of lighting in the world, go to Venezuela. But if one is in Africa (and especially DR Congo with five of the top 10 world lightning hot spots) one can find many lightning hotspots lighting up the sky.