Two new world records for mega-eclairs have been set by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)including one for the longest distance of a single flash in North America and one for the longest duration in South America.
“A mega-flash is a very, very big flash,” Randall Cerveny, WMO’s Weather and Climate Extremes reporter, told CNN. “Most lightning in thunderstorms travels only a few miles or so. A megaflash can travel hundreds of miles!”
The official definition of a megaflash is any horizontal flash that travels more than 100 kilometers.
the new flash record goes way beyond definition.
The new record for the longest single flash covered a horizontal distance of about 477 miles (768 kilometers) from Texas to Louisiana on April 29, 2020. The impressive distance is comparable to the stretch between New York and Columbus Ohio, Cerveny said. He rounded the previous record by around 37 miles, or 60 kilometres.
Although it broke the distance record, it did not break the longevity record, which went to a different megaflash in South America lasting over 17 seconds, setting a new duration record.
It was documented on October 31, 2018, during a thunderstorm over Uruguay and northern Paraguay. This megaflash lasted about 17.102 seconds, which beat the previous record by just 0.37 seconds.
“These are extraordinary recordings of unique lighting flash events,” says Cerveny.
Detecting megaflashes from space
Previously, the duration and extent of lightning strikes were documented using ground-based Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) networks. However, scientists found that the technology could only detect lightning up to a certain magnitude.
Scientists decided to find a way to watch lightning.
With new advances in technology, lightning scientists have been able to use geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs) on space-orbiting satellites to collect larger-scale lightning data such as new megaflash lightning records.
The new technology opens a window into an aspect of weather that was previously elusive. Michael J. Peterson of the Space and Remote Sensing Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory said, “We are now at a place where we have excellent sound measurements. [lightning’s] many facets, which allow us to discover surprising new aspects of its behavior.”
As the technology continues to advance, experts in the field are optimistic for lightning detection on an even larger scale in the future. Randall Cerveny said: “It is likely that even greater extremes still exist and that we may be able to observe them as lightning technology improves.”
“But these findings are also important to the general public as a stark reminder that lightning can strike far from the parent source region,” Cerveny said.
Do you hear the thunder? This is what you should do next
As stormy season approaches in the United States, the threat of lightning to the public is a major concern.
“Lightning is a major hazard that kills many people every year,” explained Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary General. “The results highlight significant lightning-related public safety concerns for electrified clouds where lightning strikes can travel extremely large distances.”
Places such as the Great Plains in the United States and the La Plata Basin in South America are particularly vulnerable to the types of thunderstorms that cause megaflashes.
Lightning experts urge people living in weather-prone areas to know where lightning is safe in the event of a heavy storm.
Lightning specialist Ron Holle explained: “The only places safe from lightning are major buildings that have wiring and plumbing structures; not structures such as a beach or a bus stop.” If you’re not near a building safe from lightning, he suggested the second-best option is “inside an enclosed metal-roofed vehicle, not buggies or motorbikes.” .
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