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Longest lightning bolt stretches across 3 US states

February 1, 2022

A single flash of lightning stretched across the US states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The World Meteorological Organization said the lightning stretched nearly 500 miles (768 kilometers).

A satellite image showing a thunderstorm complex which was found to contain the longest single flash that covered a horizontal distance on record, at around 477 miles (768 kilometers) across parts of the southern US on April 29, 2020
A single bolt of lightning stretched nearly 500 miles (775 kilometers) across parts of the southern USImage: NOAA/AP/picture alliance

A lightning bolt extending across three states in the United States has set a world record for the longest flash, a United Nations organization, the World Meteorological Organization, said on Monday.

The April 29, 2020, lightning reached 477.2 miles (768 kilometers) across the southern US states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A previous record set in Brazil in 2018 clocked a lightning bolt at 440.6 miles (709 kilometers) long.

Another lightning-related record was also set in 2020 in Uruguay and northern Argentina. A lightning flash in the two Latin American nations lasted 17.1 seconds, eclipsing the old record of 16.7 seconds.

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'Absolutely extraordinary' record lightning flashes

The chief of records confirmation at the World Meteorological Organization, Randall Cerveny of Arizona State University, said, "These are extraordinary records from single lightning flash events." He also lauded the scientific progress on display "to make such assessments." 

Cerveny described the lightning bolts as cloud-to-cloud and said they occurred several thousands of feet in the air, imperiling no one.

Nonetheless, the head of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said, "The findings highlight important public lightning safety concerns for electrified clouds where flashes can travel extremely large distances."

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New technology to track 'megaflashes'

The records were detected using new satellite tracking technology. The technology used to detect the length and duration of lightning flashes has improved dramatically in recent years, helping explain records far greater than what was the norm when measuring capabilities were more limited.

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

Cerveny said the two regions where these extraordinary bolts were detected are among the few places on earth known to experience intense storms known as Mesoscale Convective System thunderstorms, or "megaflashes."

ar/msh (AFP, AP)