The Catatumbo Lightning of Venezuala: The Everlasting Storm

Catatumbo lightning, the everlasting storm, Venezuela


One of the most spectacular displays in nature is a thunderstorm, especially of the type where the lightning is more or less continuous. In Venezuela, there is one such storm that appears regularly in the same place and can be seen for nearly half the nights of the year. It has been christened ‘The Everlasting Storm’  as it has been occuring for centuries and apparently it produces ‘Catatumbo lightning’. You can find a lot of information, both correct and incorrect, on the Internet by searching for the two terms. This storm occurs over the marshes where the Catatumbo river enters the Lago de Maracaibo bay.

The main two myths that appear about the storm are that the lightning is somehow unique (for example it has been said that there is no thunder) and that the cause of this almost daily storm is ionised methane gas rising from the swamps.

The ‘Unique Lightning’ Myth

‘Catatumbo lightning’ is perfectly ordinary,  the reason this myth has arisen is that there is so much lightning during the event that it is pretty much continuous. In most storms, lightning occurs only once every few minutes but there is so much energy in this storm that it occurs every few seconds. The idea that iut is thunder-free has arisen because it is often observed from a distance and the thunder is inaudible.

The ‘Methane is the Cause’ Myth

Thunderstorm formation occurs because of large-scale atmospheric forces that are created when moist hot air rises rapidly. The surrounding mountains, consistent winds and moist tropical air in the Lago de Maracaibo region is what triggers the storms in the same place. Methane from swamps is produced in such small amounts that it is completely insignificant, even if the pseudo-science used to provide the reason by storm chasers and locals was vaguely correct. There are many instances of storms of similar intensities occuring over areas where there is no methane produced.

The unique thing about the ‘Everlasting Storm’ is that it is created in the same place, year after year and there is in fact nothing mysterious about it at all.

Taught science for 16 years at a secondary school in the East Midlands.