Lightning can strike anywhere on the earth including water. Large bodies of water, however, lack the geographic features that create conditions favorable to lighting; thus, lightning is less frequent over the earth’s oceans than it is over its landmasses. Although it is rare to find lightning striking deep oceans, you can find it near waters just off the coast where heat and updrafts are favorable to the formation of storms. Cumulonimbus clouds, which form thunderstorms, require moisture, unstable air mass, and a lifting force (heat) in order to form. Where these conditions are met, whether over land or water, thunderstorms and lightning are likely to form.

Ironically, one of the largest lightning hot spots on earth is located at a lake. Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest concentration of lightning with 250 lightning flashes per square kilometer each year. One area where the mouth of the river empties into the lake is known for its “everlasting lightning storm.” Known as Catatumbo lightning, it produces mostly cloud-to-cloud lightning that forms 5-kilometer high voltage arcs 140-160 nights a year, 10 hours a night, and as many as 280 times an hour! The lightning at Lake Maracaibo is so bright and consistent it has guided sailors for centuries and is known as the “Beacon of Maracaibo.” All the required factors to produce lightning storms are found here: irregular terrain, mountains, curving coastlines, specific wind patterns as well as heat and humidity. Luckily, not all bodies of water have the geological features this conducive for lightning.