ORLANDO, Fla. - During the summer storm season, you might think the Sunshine State holds the title for the most electrifying place on Earth, but that's not the case: Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is home to what is known as the "everlasting storm."
The name says it all. This unique place is the lightning capital of the world.
Florida and lightning go together like peanut butter and jelly. It happens almost every day from May to October. The peninsula setup, with water on three sides, favors the stormy weather. According to the National Weather Service, Central Florida sees roughly 70-100 days per year with thunderstorms. While that is a lot, it by no means makes us the leader in the world.
Imagine up to 300 days a year with the sky lighting up with bright bolts of electricity followed by loud cracks and booms. To some, it could be terrifying. To others, it's a show like no other, especially since the storms all happen at night. That's the reality at Lake Maracaibo.
Let's start with the geography and topography. Venezuela, located on the northern side of South America, lies 552 miles north of the equator, so it's safe to say it is tropical. Lake Maracaibo is a tidal bay, or inlet, of the Caribbean Sea. This area, known as the Maracaibo Basin, is bordered by two mountain ranges, the Meridas Andes to the southeast and the Sierra de Perija to the west. The Gulf of Venezuela, where water flows into the lake, is to the north.
Trade winds play a big role in the stormy setup. These winds are constantly blowing toward the equator from the northeast to southeast in the northern hemisphere, bringing warmth toward the Maracaibo Basin. At night, this wind pushes upward the additional warmth from the tropical sun beating down all day on the tidal bay. No biggie, right? Wrong.
In order to get lightning, you need static charges. This happens when the warm moist air flows upward and meets the cooler, drier air moving down from the mountains. Water droplets collide with ice crystals and the static charges are released.
We're not talking about an hour or two of storms. These storms last for about 10 hours a night, starting -- like clockwork -- just after dusk. On an average night, about 28 strikes per minute are seen, but during more violent episodes, one bolt per second has been observed -- hence the name "everlasting storms."
"Depending on the amount of humidity in the air, it can be one heck of a colorful show," News 6 meteorologist Samara Cokinos said.
On very humid nights, the flashes of light shine through the water vapor in the air. The droplets act like tiny prisms, creating bursts of red, pink, purple and orange in the night sky. When the air is drier, the bolts dance across the sky in a brilliant bright white, lacking the prism effect.
This lightning phenomenon is most active where the Catatumbo River empties into the Maracaibo Basin and it's nothing new. Centuries ago, natives called this area the River of Fire, believing it was a sign from the gods. The electrifying show can been seen up to 250 miles away and was known to colonial sailors as the Lighthouse of Catatumbo, or the Maracaibo Beacon. In 2013, Lake Maracaibo earned a hot spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the area with the highest concentration of storms.
The only time the lake recorded a quiet streak was a six-week period from January to March in 2010 --after a strong El Niño at the end of 2009, which is said to have caused the longest calm period over the Maracaibo Basin in 104 years.
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