If you plan to avoid being struck by lightning, it is probably a good idea to stay far away from Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Satellite data indicates that the square kilometer enclosing the lake gets struck more than 200 times annually. Rachel Albrecht, professor of meteorology at the University of São Paulo, has conducted research showing that Lake Maracaibo generates more lightning than any place on Earth.
Most of the lightning hotspots in the world are located in elevated terrain allowing for the combination of warm and cool air that produce storms. This is true of Lake Maracaibo as it is located between the Gulf of Venezuela and the Andes Mountains. The mixture of cool mountain breezes and warm air from the gulf lead to frequent thunderstorms.
The lightning study was conducted using a satellite that operated from 1997 to 2015 by circling the planet between 38°N and 38°S latitude. The satellite passed over each spot up to six times per day, viewing them for 90 seconds each. The data collected by the study was used to tally up the top 500 lightning hotspots in the world.
Multiple other large lakes all over the world are also considered lightning hotspots, including many in Africa. According to research conducted by Steven J. Goodman, atmospheric physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, central Africa is still the broadest area impacted by lightning, preceded only by Lake Maracaibo.
Chamberlain Smith is a science intern and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.