Zap! 477-mile-long lightning bolt crosses 3 U.S. states and breaks records

Nature didn’t hold back.

Originally Published: 
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Lightning can be both frightening and fascinating.

You probably know the feeling that comes from watching a thunderstorm rip across the sky in a burst of bright flashes.

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In recent years, both North and South America experienced some of the biggest and brightest bolts ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Agency (WMO).

On February 1, 2022 the WMO announced two record-breaking lightning strikes.

The first was a single lightning bolt that spanned 477.2 miles.

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It traversed the Southern U.S. in April 2020, during a huge storm that moved north to south.

Here’s the NOAA GOES-16 satellite’s view of the storm that produced the longest recorded bolt of lightning.


The white lines in this graphic represent the total span of the bolt, which stretched across Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

World Meteorological Association

WMO’s second record-breaker is the longest-lasting lightning flash: a blinding bolt that lit up the sky for just over 17 seconds.

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This shocking spectacle was spotted over Argentina and Uruguay in 2019.

World Meteorological Association
These kinds of bolts — called megaflashes — don’t occur during ordinary thunderstorms.

But the Great Plains region and La Plata Basin, where the storms that produced the record-breaking strikes passed through, are known lightning hotspots.

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Storm systems have to garner enough electrified clouds to cover a vast expanse of sky.

Then, those clouds have to discharge their electricity slowly to produce such powerful bolts.

And the WMO’s notable awardees may not hold the world records for long.

Satellites and other technologies will help researchers capture even more megaflashes, and track their size and visibility trends over time.

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“The increasing number of large flashes that we are seeing now compared to a few years ago... are simply due to the recent monumental improvements in our ability to record these monsters.”

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