, Learn about the lightning that struck 48 times near the North Pole—and why that’s not normal, Learn about a particularly strange type of lightning that forms in a ball, Read about the most powerful electrical storm detected, eastern Australia to Africa’s west coast. ), “Lightning science is relatively new, and we’re moving basically as quickly as we can get instruments to detect,” says Kristin Calhoun, a research scientist at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory who was not part of the new study. These monster flashes arrive after it appears to people on the ground that the storm has subsided, Peterson notes. The new European data protection law requires us to inform you of the following before you use our website: We use cookies and other technologies to customize your experience, perform analytics and deliver personalized advertising on our sites, apps and newsletters and across the Internet based on your interests. But she also cautions that determining whether lightning is occurring in a single flash—as opposed to a couple in rapid succession—is tricky business. Ground-based systems, like the one that identified the past record-holding lightning, monitors for radiation in a swath of the sky and charts high-resolution, three-dimensional lightning maps. Lightning is a major hazard that claims many lives every year, the WMO said. (Official data aren’t kept for the flash with the largest area, so it's not possible to determine if it set a record. All of these bits—ice shards, droplets, and the slushy ice between—jostle for position. The bar along the bottom shows how the energies and sizes of individual pulses change over time. It tends to form in the trailing zone of large complex storm systems. It was so big, in fact, that it's prompted calls for a rewrite of the official definition of a lightning strike - seeing as before this, it was assumed that … We rely on readers like you to uphold a free press. A giant burr oak tree in Missouri — the largest of its kind in the U.S. — is burning after a lightning strike, officials say.. Its footprint extended across 44,400 square miles across multiple states. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. The two satellites continually watch nearly half of the globe, from eastern Australia to Africa’s west coast, providing unprecedented amounts of information about the planet. 19 SEPTEMBER 2016. That means when lightning finally crackles across the sky, it’s colossal. But then a spidery beast could suddenly scurry across the sky, crossing state borders in a matter of seconds. The lightning in this image is around 160 miles long, roughly a third the size of the newly reported record-breaking flash. Such separation “charges” the cloud, readying it for lightning. As lightning propagates, it deposits some of its charge, she explains, which changes the electric field and can often spark a second flash. ), The previous record-holding flashes “called into question our typical view of lightning,” Peterson says. Learn how thunderstorms form, what causes lightning and thunder, and how these violent phenomena help balance the planet's energy and electricity. Another bolt lit up over northern Argentina on March 4, 2019, for a whopping 16.73 seconds, setting a record for the longest recorded duration of a lightning strike. Shocking 440-mile-long megaflash lightning bolt shatters world record. While the record-breaking flashes he discovered still require official certification by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, they both roughly doubled the past record holders. It also confirmed a lightning strike that lasted 7.74 seconds over Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, in 2012. The data from these satellites will “give us an opportunity to study lightning in a way we’ve never been able to see before.”, The events highlighted in this latest study are what’s known as spider lightning. Because of this real-time data feed, lightning can become too complex for the processing system. “At first glance, it looks pretty impressive to me what’s been done here to really pull out things that were not fully represented in the operational data stream,” says Edward Mansell, a physical scientist at the NOAA Severe Storms Laboratory. A third lightning flash over the southern United States sprawled some 44,400 square miles—nearly the area of Ohio. Such events form due to instability in the atmosphere—often when warm, wet air collides with cool, dry air, boosting the warm air into the sky. The World Meteorological Organization just certified two lightning strikes as world records. On October 31, 2018, a spidery web of lightning unfurled over Brazil, stretching 440 miles across the sky—a length roughly equivalent to the distance between Boston and Washington, D.C. In 2018 alone, the system recorded some 360 million lightning flashes across the Americas, beaming back data to ground-based processors that crunch numbers in real time. Instead the form crawling across his screen was a monstrous flash of so-called spider lightning—a twisting network of light stretching hundreds of miles across stormy skies. Describing one of the flashes recorded in the latest study, Calhoun marvels, “it taps into a charge that’s in eastern Texas all the way into southern Arkansas in the same 10-second time period.”. One evening while working, Michael Peterson found himself staring at an enormous spider. But farther away from this volatile zone is a more stable area known as the stratiform region. At any moment, about 2,000 thunderstorms are occurring worldwide. “When you’re looking at an optic sensor like GLM you won’t be able to see that break,” she says. Peterson’s automated method pieces the glowing jigsaw back together. The duo is equipped with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), which is in essence a fancy video camera that records photons in a very narrow range of frequencies at 550 frames per second. See our, Read a limited number of articles each month, You consent to the use of cookies and tracking by us and third parties to provide you with personalized ads, Unlimited access to on any device, Unlimited access to all Washington Post apps, No on-site advertising or third-party ad tracking. One is now recognized as the longest recorded lightning strike in history and the other is certified as the greatest duration. A lightning baby then starts growing across the sky. And the data is a proving ground for Peterson’s new automated processing system, published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, which tackles the most complex lightning data beamed back from space. The furthest reported distance record has been confirmed as a lightning bolt over Oklahoma in June 2007, which covered a horizontal distance of … Please enable cookies on your web browser in order to continue. But such systems are more limited in their range than satellites, Peterson says. “The biggest challenge is also the biggest benefit,” Peterson says. It’s vital to understand just how volatile storm clouds are, Calhoun adds. A thunderstorm looms over southern Brazil and Uruguay in this computer-rendered view. In 2007, a flash 200 miles long stretched over Oklahoma, and in 2012, a 7.74-second long flash lit up skies over southern France. A combination of both methods will likely provide the best look into lightning structure and physics. “It’s just the sheer amount of data.”. His analysis revealed two record-breaking lightning flashes, the longest by length and by duration. It then flags the broken flashes as degraded, so many researchers discard them during analyses. When that happens, the algorithm chops the flash into a series of snapshots. What’s more, the identification of such large flashes of light demonstrates the power of NOAA’s newest weather satellites, GOES-16 and GOES-17.