Skip to Content

Catatumbo lightning: The place with the highest lightning activity in the world

Imagine a place with lightning 297 nights a year, up to 10 hours per day! Sounds like something out of science fiction? Such a place actually exists – Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.

Catatumbo lightning, as the phenomenon is called, is as spectacular as it sounds, appearing 5 days out of 6, for hours, with up to nearly 30 lightning strikes per minute! Lake Maracaibo tops out at an astonishing 233 lightning flashes per square kilometer per year, making it the absolute lightning hot spot of the world. Lake Maracaibo has a unique geography and climate, that favours very frequent formation of thunderstorms. Night time mountain breezes descend from Perijá Mountains and Mérida’s Cordillera (parts of the Andes) and collide with the warm, moist air over Lake Maracaibo, initiating thunderstorms, particularly over the mouth of the Catatumbo River, as it flows into Lake Maracaibo.

Comparison of lightning flash rate for Lake Maracaibo and Lake Victoria, the previous record holder for the highest lightning rate in the world. Units are in lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. Map: University of São Paulo.

Catatumbo lightning is so persistent, active and regular it has been popularly known as the Lighthouse of Maracaibo, for being visible for many kilometers around the lake. It was described by the Italian geographer Agustin Codazzi: “like a continuous lightning, and its position such that, located almost on the meridian of the mouth of the lake, it directs the navigators as a lighthouse.” It has also been called the Everlasting lightning storm.

So, what exactly does Catatumbo lightning look like? Photographer Jonas Piontek has been to Lake Maracaibo several times – check the gallery below for some of his fine photos of Catatumbo lightning:

Catatumbo lightning photographed by Jonas Piontek (all photos).

Prior to new, higher resolution data being available, the area around Kifuka village in DR Congo in Africa was the top lightning hot spot in the world, with 158 lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. Compare that with the top area in Europe: extreme northeastern Italy with approximately 8 lightning flashes per square kilometer per year. Yes, Lake Maracaibo looks like an interesting travel destination!