Researchers have detected a record-breaking lightning bolt that was 321.1 kilometers (199 mile long), roughly the distance between New York City and Washington D.C. It streaked across the skies above Oklahoma back in 2007, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just officially recognized it as the longest single flash of lightning ever recorded.
“Lightning is a major weather hazard that claims many lives each year,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement. “Improvements in detecting and monitoring these extreme events will help us improve public safety.”
The WMO said the advancement of lightning-sensing technologies made it possible to detect new extremes and allowed the organization to now include lightning measurements in the archive. Randall Cerveny, chief rapporteur of climate and weather extremes for WMO, said experts can now study specific lightning flashes in much greater detail.
Lightning strikes about 25 million times a year in the U.S., annually killing an average of 49 people and injuring hundreds more, according to the National Weather Service. So far this year, lightning has killed 35 people in the U.S., which makes 2016 the deadliest year for lightning since 2007, which had 45 lightning-related fatalities. Improved sensing technologies in recent years have allowed for better warning systems and safety protocols, according to the WMO.
“The end result reinforces critical safety information regarding lightning, specifically that lightning flashes can travel huge distances from their parent thunderstorms,” Cerveny said. “Our experts’ best advice: When thunder roars, go indoors.”
Christopher B. Taub