‘Megaflash’ lightning sets new world records

SPOKANE, Wash.– Two lightning megaflashes are now responsible for resetting the records for the longest distance and longest timeframe of lightning strikes anywhere on earth. The World Meteorological Organization confirmed the two new lightning records on Tuesday.

A lightning bolt within a complex of thunderstorms on April 29, 2020 traveled an astonishing 477 miles between Mississippi and Texas along the Gulf Coast of the United States. This is 37 miles longer than the previous record in Brazil in 2018. This lightning bolt was within the clouds of its parent thunderstorms and traveled through the clouds behind the band of heavy rain with the system.

Much like how lightning hits the ground because of static charge differences between the ground and the thunderstorm, similar charge differences happen within the clouds themselves. Large thunderstorm complexes like those found in the central and eastern United States can measure hundreds of miles across. These are perfect breeding grounds for these megaflashes.

WMO lighting extremes 2022

World Meteorological Organization

The second megaflash record confirmed on Tuesday happened in South America on June 18, 2020. The single lightning flash over parts of Argentina and Uruguay lasted 17.1 seconds. Considering most lightning strikes happen quite literally in a flash, this is extraordinary.

These discoveries would not have happened without the latest generation of weather satellites launched by the United States, China, and the EU in the last decade. These satellites have tools called lightning mappers that detect and record these flashes. Their findings, including these incredible lightning bolts, are growing our understanding of what lightning is capable of.


Megaflash lightning

Source: NOAA