435-Mile 'Megaflash' Lightning Bolt Breaks World Record

The longest lightning bolt tore across Brazil and the longest-lasting took place in Argentina.
Fabienne Lang

Lightning bolts are usually impressive to watch, as they zip and zap across the dark skies overhead in a mesmerizing dance. 

Now, the U.N.'s weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) officially disclosed that the record for the longest megaflash lightning bolt was across a whopping 435 miles (700 km) in Brazil. 

Now that's one long lightning bolt.


Two records set

The single flash that spans across 435 miles (709 kilometers) in Brazil happened on October 31, 2018, and to date, is the longest single lightning bolt ever to be recorded. The previous record of a single lightning flash was in 2007 in Oklahoma, which was over 199 miles (321 kilometers).

The 2018 megaflash, as it's being called, lasted the equivalent of the distance between Boston and Washington D.C., or from London to Basel in Switzerland, as per the WMO statement. 

Megaflashes "are defined as horizontal mesoscale lightning discharges that reach hundreds of kilometers in length," as per the statement.

435-Mile 'Megaflash' Lightning Bolt Breaks World Record
The megaflash's location in Brazil is the top red line, while the longest-lasting lightning bolt in Argentina is the bottom one, Source: WMO

Another record was broken, which was for the longest-lasting single lightning bolt. This was recorded in Argentina on March 4, 2019, when one single bolt flashed across the South American sky for 16.73 seconds. That's up from the previous record of 7.74 seconds in 2012 in France. 

These new records are "extraordinary records from single lightning flash events," Randall Cerveny, the chief rapporteur in the WMO expert committee, explained in the statement.

"It is likely that even greater extremes still exist, and that we will be able to observe them as lightning detection technology improves," he said.

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As technology and data of natural effects improve year upon year, there's a chance to capture more and more impressive natural phenomenons like the megaflash. 

435-Mile 'Megaflash' Lightning Bolt Breaks World Record
The top picture shows the megaflash's location, while the bottom one shows the longest-lasting lightning bolt in Argentina, Source: WMO 

These extraordinary moments were able to be captured thanks to recent advances in space-based lightning mapping used for measuring "flash extent and duration continuously over broad geo-spatial domains."

These "previously unobserved extremes in lightning occurrence, known as 'megaflashes'," Michael J. Peterson, of the Space and Remote Sensing Group of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, said in the WMO statement

It's exciting to know such technology exists so that Earth's natural wonders can be recorded and shared in such a way.

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