Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Sparking interest

Sparking interest Gail Johnson
12 Sep
2015
Lake Maracaibo in northeast Venezuela experiences the most lightning in the world. Almost every night, the clouds crackle with 100,000 to 400,000 volts of energy, lighting up the sky for miles

Surrounded by mountains on all but one side, Lake Maracaibo is a lightning trap. Warm winds rushing off the Caribbean smash into the cooler air from the nearby Andes. The warm air is forced upwards where it condenses into thunderclouds, which average 1.2 million strikes per year.

The atmospheric phenomenon is known as the Lighthouse of Maracaibo. Since at least the 16th century it has been lighting up the night sky, foiling the invasion attempts of Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and exposing the arrival of a Spanish fleet during the Venezuelan war of independence in 1823. Its longest absence in living memory was during the El Niño of 2010, when it was thought that the surrounding drought prevented clouds from forming for six weeks. When the drought ended, the lightning returned in full force and today can occur for ten hours a night, 160 nights per year.

The lightning is bringing a vein of tourism to an otherwise unfrequented area. Rocked by political uncertainty and economic instability, Venezuela is often avoided by visitors. The Venezuelan government’s long history of prioritising oil revenue has neglected other industries and left tourism threadbare. However, the strong chance of seeing the Lighthouse of Maracaibo has attracted the attention of plenty of storm chasers. 

This year, it has ousted the Congolese town of Kifuka as the place with the world’s most lightning bolts per year in the Guinness World Records. Locals hope the new title might support independent tours of the area and its surrounding natural parks.

This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

As the world gears up for COP26 in Glasgow, Marco Magrini…

Wildlife

James Wallace, chief executive of Beaver Trust, shares an unlikely…

Wildlife

The winners of the most hotly anticipated photography competition have…

Polar

Artist and geographer Nick Jones was appointed artist in residence…

Oceans

Photojournalist Tommy Trenchard joins a research expedition to the Saya…

Climate

So far, carbon offsets have focused mostly on tree-planting. But…

Oceans

Marine scientists are often too few and too underfunded to…

Wildlife

Indigenous marmosets are under threat from released pets and forest fragmentation

Wildlife

A rare encounter with a leopard in the mountains of…

Oceans

The Saildrone Surveyor, a type of uncrewed autonomous vehicle, has…

Climate

Australia has the highest per-capita use of rooftop solar power…

Wildlife

Ecoacoustics – a way to listen in closely to the…

Wildlife

Ash dieback is set to transform the British landscape. Robert…

Geophoto

Photographer Patrick Wack documents documents changes in the Chinese province 

Climate

A growing tide of legal action is increasing pressure on…

Wildlife

Classifying a group of organisms as a separate species has…

Geophoto

Artist Sarah Gillespie used the historic mezzotint technique for her…

Geophoto

The winners of the 2021 competition of Earth Photo have…

Climate

As climate change dysregulates weather patterns, cases of pest explosions…