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New lightning records reveal nature’s power and technology’s advances

The two lightning records confirmed by World Meteorological Organization last week sent shockwaves across the science community and raised the bar for what’s to be expected as monitoring technology improves. 

The records were for length and duration. The length record was set April 29 of last year with a megaflash that stretched 477 miles from Mississippi to Texas and across the northern tip of the Gulf of Mexico.

The duration record, set June 18 of last year, was for a megaflash that lasted 17.1 seconds, eclipsing the previous title holder, which was 16.7 seconds, by a fraction of a second. It occurred in the La Plata Basin in South America.

Both occurred in lightning hot spots, according to scientists, areas that frequently see megaflash events, which are distinct from normal lightning by their sheer size. 

The World Meteorological Organization has confirmed two new records for lightning.

While their measurements are impressive, what’s more important, scientists say, is that far-reaching and prolonged storms such as these illustrate the potential hazards and dangers of megaflash storms.  Rather than just strikes that hit one specific area, these flashes can stretch vast distances and pose serious dangers to people, even if they aren’t directly under the lightning.

“I think the really important, general public aspect of this is what this means in terms of lightning safety,” said Randall S. Cerveny, a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University and rapporteur on extreme records for the United Nations World Meteorological Organization. “It really emphasizes the fact that lightning can hit places far away from where it originates.” 

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