According to a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a volcanic eruption that took place in January 2022 may have triggered the most intense lightning storm ever documented. The research reveals that the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga volcano not only made headlines in scientific circles for its exceptional characteristics but also led to violent lightning storms.
To investigate the aftermath of the 2022 eruption, scientists utilized ground-based radio antennas and satellite imagery. It was discovered that during its peak activity, the volcano was ejecting an astonishing 11 billion pounds of material per second, reaching a height of at least 35 miles—the highest recorded eruption in history.
Regrettably, the vast amount of water, dust, and heat released by the volcano ascended into the atmosphere, giving rise to a menacing and turbulent lightning storm. This storm generated lightning strikes at an unprecedented frequency. Furthermore, the research indicates that the lightning strikes propagated outward with the advancing wave, which moved at an astonishing speed of over 80 meters per second.
The intensity of the storm was remarkable, with an astounding rate of approximately 2,600 lightning strikes per minute or over 40 strikes per second. What’s even more astonishing is that the researchers observed lightning strikes occurring up to 30 kilometers above sea level, significantly higher than the typical altitude of lightning strikes.
The findings from this study suggest that under specific circumstances, volcanic eruptions like the one at Hunga Tonga-Hunga have the potential to generate exceptionally violent lightning storms. Moreover, the dispersion of materials from the eruption plays a crucial role in sustaining these storms over extended periods and causing them to expand outward from their origin.
While not every volcanic eruption will produce such phenomena, this discovery is undeniably captivating and will undoubtedly influence our future perspectives on powerful volcanic events. It highlights the need to reassess our understanding of the implications and consequences associated with eruptions of this magnitude.