Megaflashes: Just how long can a lightning discharge get?

Walter A. Lyons, Eric C. Bruning, Tom A. Warner, Donald R. MacGorman, Samantha Edgington, Clemens Tillier, Janusz Mlynarczyk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The existence of mesoscale lightning discharges on the order of 100 km in length has been known since the radar-based findings of Ligda in the mid-1950s. However, it took the discovery of sprites in 1989 to direct significant attention to horizontally extensive “megaflashes” within mesoscale convective systems (MCSs). More recently, 3D Lightning Mapping Arrays (LMAs) have documented sprite-initiating lightning discharges traversing several hundred kilometers. One such event in a 2007 Oklahoma MCS having an LMA-derived length of 321 km, has been certified by the WMO as the longest officially documented lightning flash. The new Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) sensor on GOES-16/17 now provides an additional tool suited to investigating mesoscale lightning. On 22 October 2017, a quasi-linear convective system moved through the central United States. At 0513 UTC, the GLM indicated a lightning discharge originated in northern Texas, propagated north-northeast across Oklahoma, fortuitously traversed the Oklahoma LMA (OKLMA), and finally terminated in southeastern Kansas. This event is explored using the OKLMA, the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN), and the GLM. The NLDN reported 17 positive cloud-to-ground flashes (+CGs), 23 negative CGs (−CGs), and 37 intracloud flashes (ICs) associated with this massive discharge, including two +CGs capable of inducing sprites, with others triggering upward lightning from tall towers. Combining all available data confirms the megaflash, which illuminated 67,845 km2, was at least 500 km long, greatly exceeding the current official record flash length. Yet even these values are being superseded as GLM data are further explored, revealing that such vast discharges may not be all that uncommon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E73-E86
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


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