Monday, February 2, 2015

The Everlasting Storm

Have you ever witnessed a natural phenomenon? Your answer is probably yes. Most people have seen natural phenomenon, such as lunar eclipse, solar eclipse, or even the rainbow after a thunderstorm. Right here, I’m not going to tell you those kinds of things. I will show you something more unusual, something extraordinary. The phenomenon is called “The Catatumbo Lightning”.

The Catatumbo Lightning (or what people say "The Everlasting Storm") is one of the world’s most unique phenomenons. This phenomenon occurs in one of South American country, Venezuela. Here, in one, tiny, swampy corner of Venezuela the storm beast makes its lair, and produces the most breathtaking spectacle of a natural light show on earth. You may question yourself, why it is called Catatumbo? Its name came from the location where it occurs. The Catatumbo Lightning happens just over the mouth of Catatumbo River which empties into Lake Maracaibo.

How could the phenomenon happen? Powerful flashes of lightning over this relatively small area are considered to be the world’s largest single generator of troposphere ozone. It originates from a mass of storm clouds at a height of more than 5 km, and occurs during 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day and up to 280 times per hour. It occurs over and around Lake Maracaibo, typically over the bog area formed where the Catatumbo River flows into the lake.

After appearing continually for centuries, the lightning ceased from January to April 2010, apparently due to drought. This raised fears that it might have been extinguished permanently. The phenomenon reappeared after several months. In February 2014, The Weather Channel featured an article stating that the Catatumbo Lightning phenomenon in Venezuela had made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most lightning strikes in one region at any given time.

This natural display of spectral beauty has its share of mysteries. For all of its majestic beauty and terrifying power, it has long been unclear as to what actually causes this ongoing storm to become so amped up and only in one small, well defined area. The most common explanation is that a combination of the unique topography and atmospheric conditions of the area, such as wind and heat, cause and feed the terrifying storm. The Lake Maracaibo Basin is surrounded on three sides by the Andes Mountains, which form a sort of V that traps warm trade winds from the Caribbean. This hot air meets the cooler air descending from the mountains and the clash causes condensation. This condensation, plus the updrafts created by the additional moisture evaporating from the lake itself, creates the perfect recipe for the formation of thunderstorms.

It is also believed that the unique concentration and intensity of the lightning here can be attributed to the large reserves of methane that lie in the ground beneath the area. The Maracaibo basin sits atop one of the largest oil fields in the world, which produces vast quantities of methane gas. The theory is that this methane may seep into the atmosphere and increase conductivity, giving the thunderstorms and lightning extra boosts. Methane has sometimes been attributed to the myriad colors the lightning takes on as well. While undoubtedly there is a lot of methane to be found here, and it is now understood in particular concentrations under the epicenter of the storm activity, it is unclear how much of an influence, if any, it exerts on the storm. One popular theory in the 1960s was that uranium embedded in the bedrock of the basin might have some effect on the storm. Yet for all of the ideas put forth, at this point, it is not totally understood what causes the storm to rage so consistently and violently.

However, this is a very amazing rare phenomenon. No wonder many tourists come to visit this place. Also, it’s not strange that storm-chasers come to photograph excessive lightning that occurs just over the lake. It is very beautiful yet so dangerous, The Everlasting Storm of Venezuela.


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