Lightning Catatumbo - a natural phenomenon in Venezuela

In the northwest of Venezuela, where the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo, a mysterious and very beautiful natural phenomenon constantly occurs, which is called the Catatumbo lightning or the incessant Catatumbo storm.

A thundercloud over Catatumbo produces about a million lightning a year, each with a capacity of about 400, 000 amperes. Continuously replacing each other, the sky is cut by huge electrical discharges up to ten kilometers or more in length. This phenomenon is one of the world's largest producers of ozone. The most interesting thing is that with such an intensity of lightning, thunderstorm peals are practically inaudible.

Lightning is visible not only on storm days, which last here 150 days a year, but also on ordinary days, 10 hours a day. Because of this consistency and constant position, the storm was nicknamed the Lighthouse of Maracaibo, as it has been helping ships navigate for centuries.

Scientists believe that the main reason for the appearance of such an unusual phenomenon is methane, which is rich in the atmosphere of these wetlands. The Katatumbo River, which flows into Lake Maracaibo, passes through very large swamps, washing away organic materials that decompose and release huge clouds of ionized methane. Then they rise to great heights, where they are carried away by strong winds coming from the Andes. Methane, weakening the insulating properties of the air in the cloud, causes frequent occurrence of lightning.

The first historical mentions of the Catatumbo lightning date back to 1595, when Sir Francis Drake was about to take the city of Maracaibo by storm. He intended to attack under cover of darkness, but the soldiers guarding the city saw him when a powerful lightning illuminated everything around. They are also described in the epic poem by Lope de Vega "La Dragontea", which dates back to 1597. Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt described Catatumbo lightning as "electrical explosions." The Italian geographer Agustin Codazzi wrote about the phenomenon as "lightning that occurs on one of the rivers of the Zulia." Zulia is the name of the state of Venezuela where Lake Maracaibo is located. The coat of arms of the state of Zulia depicts lightning in honor of the Catatumbo phenomenon.

Interestingly, none of the current UNESCO World Heritage Sites is currently a meteorological phenomenon, however the Venezuelan government is trying to make the Catatumbo lightning the first natural phenomenon on this list.