{Disarmed} Catatumbo lightning: a monstrous meteorological phenomenon capable of generating energy to illuminate 100 million light bulbs

Catatumbo lightning: a monstrous meteorological phenomenon capable of generating energy to illuminate 100 million light bulbs

We live days of strong storms in some parts of the planet, with the usual cold drop phenomena at this time of year in areas such as the east of the Iberian Peninsula and more seriously with the tropical storm Ida in America. These are more or less cyclical or sudden meteorological events, but there is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs locally, associated with the Lake Maracaibo basin (Venezuela), and that consists of a brutal and continuous discharge of thunder and lightning .

The association to that place is obviously not accidental: as with other meteorological phenomena, the orography of the area is decisive, specifically due to the mountain ranges and the proximity to the Caribbean. It occurs on a recurring basis during the year, especially between the months of April and November , and is nicknamed "ozone factory" (although the final destination of the gas may not be what we think).

Continuous electrical discharges and kilometer clouds

Lightning is produced by a large difference in charges between the lower part of the clouds (negative) and the surface and its elements (negative charge), due to the fact that when it rains there are frictions and collisions between water drops and odor particles, and that is visibly manifested with a strong glow. This imbalance is solved in a fast way with the transfer of electricity (lightning), which usually causes sounds due to the phenomena of expansion and contraction of the air (thunder).

With regard to the Caratumbo lightning phenomenon (which is referred to in the plural and in the singular according to the criteria considered by each researcher), what is produced is a series of continuous electric discharges and lightning , between clouds, from cloud to cloud. earth and from earth to cloud. As we saw in the video before this paragraph, the discharges come from cumulonimbus clouds, large clouds between 12 and 16 kilometers high, concentrated mainly in the Catatumbo river basin (hence the name).

More than 9,000 lightning strikes at midnight: the figures of the thunderous storm that falls over Spain today On Magnet More than 9,000 lightning strikes at midnight: the figures of the thunderous storm that falls over Spain today

We said before about the orography because the topography and relief of the Catatumbo area meet so that the perfect storm occurs (pun intended). Three sides of Lake Maracaibo are surrounded by mountains (including the Perijá Mountains and the Mérida mountain range, the Venezuelan branch of the Andes), leaving a narrow window to the north that opens onto the Gulf of Venezuela. The gulf provides the lake with a well-tempered body of Caribbean water and this adds to the dose of humidity that the tropical heat of the area causes in the lake itself.

In the afternoon, the winds associated with the low-level night current of the Lake Maracaibo basin arrive, when evaporation is greater, penetrating the surface and being forced by the contrast of cold air masses from the mountains to rise. . This is how cumulonimbus forms are formed , so that when the water droplets in the humid air mass collide with the ice crystals in the cold air mass, the difference in charges that we described earlier is produced.

Lake Maracaibo

In the same place and 300 days a year

NASA collected in EarthData the information of various investigations on the Catatumbo lightning. As has been seen, the phenomenon occurs between 260 and 300 days a year, reaching 250 lightning strikes per km² (for which they gave it a Guinness record , by the way). Ángel G. Muñoz, a research physicist at NOAA ( National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ), highlighted that it causes a large number of deaths per year, emphasizing that 25% of the population of Venezuela lives in the area where it usually occurs.

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Lightning occurs a while after sunset, when it begins to get dark or with the sky darkened, but according to the researchers it is as if it were daytime due to the continuity of the rays. They speak of about 28 lightning strikes per minute for nine hours over Lake Maracaibo. According to NASA, when it happens, enough energy would be generated to illuminate 100 million light bulbs and 10 minutes of the Catatumbo lightning would give to illuminate all of South America, being a phenomenon that has been described for centuries.

According to NASA, when it happens, enough energy would be generated to illuminate 100 million light bulbs and 10 minutes of the Catatumbo lightning would give to illuminate all of South America

The predictable and unpredictable ozone factory

Muñoz and other researchers assume that Catatumbo is the record with the highest density of electrical discharges in the world with more than 200 per km² and year. With this, and taking into account that storms are part of the atmospheric ozone generating mechanisms , the Catatumbo lightning bolts are also called "the ozone factory".

Of course, it is considered that the ozone that is formed in storms stays in lower layers and does not reach the stratosphere , so it is unlikely that, as the Venezuelan environmentalist Erik Quiroga thinks , the lightning bolts from Catatumbo help to regenerate the leaky ozone layer that protects us from the solar ultraviolet rays. A hypothesis that to this day still does not have research to support it.

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Of course, although the Catatumbo lightning bolts have a certain consistency, their behavior varies each year and during the same year, hence they seek to have a prediction that goes beyond a few days. Muñoz's team, for example, seeks to obtain a prediction three months in advance , which would be of great help for the population and for the study of the phenomenon.

Storm study models require a huge accumulation of data from many years and satellites are once again a key tool to provide them, as we have seen for the study of changes in temperature , the magnetic field of our planet or even the bioluminescence among many other examples. The hope is that these increasingly better data will be useful to complete the multiple variables that the models require and that in the end we will find one that will serve to predict the phenomenon more in advance.

Images | Jumpstory

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The news The Catatumbo lightning: a monstrous meteorological phenomenon capable of generating energy to illuminate 100 million light bulbs was originally published in xiaomist.com by Anna Martí .

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