Electric Skies: Chasing Catatumbo Lightning

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Buried deep in the jungles of Venezuela exists one of the world’s most unknown natural phenomenon: Catatumbo Lightning. Every year, Bahamian photographer and Catatumbo Lightning expert Alan Highton guides small groups of storm chasing tourists on a rugged 4-day journey through the precarious Venezuelan backcountry to his jungle guesthouse. Armed with waterproof bags, mosquito nets and other backcountry gear, the group must travel first by plane, then by road, and finally by boat. Once at the guesthouse they wait to witness Catatumbo Lightning first hand.

Catatumbo Lightning is a thundering symphony of relentless lighting storms concentrated in a small area. Occurring 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day and striking up to 280 times per hour, the storms are unmatched in their ferocity and unrelenting power. The Guinness Book of World Records will be adding Catatumbo Lightning to their list of record holders for the highest amount of average lightning bolts (250) per square kilometer, per year.

The lightning is a one of a kind natural phenomenon resulting from the particularly unique geographic conditions in the area where the Catatumbo River and Lake Maracaibo meet. At this nexus point, hot, wet winds blowing in from the lake collide with the mountain ridges of the Andes to create a perfect storm. The conditions are like nowhere else on earth and result in continuous lightning storms which start and finish like clockwork.

This story documents the journey of Alan Highton and his tour group as they push deep into the Venezuelan backcountry in search of Catatumbo Lightning.


  1. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 00:03 – 00:11 “It’s, it’s something so recurrent. It’s not really if it will happen, it’s when it will happen.”
  2. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 00:28 – 00:38 “Light basically is everything. Just try closing yours eyes for a few hours and not allowing yourself to open your eyes and you realize how light is. Talk to the blind.”
  3. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 00:43 – 00:59 “I came to Venezuela for the first time in 1981. I met a Venezuelan girl in Barbados, she asked me if I’d like to come and see her country, I said sure you know. Landed in Mérida, it took me about five minutes to decide I could definitely live here.”
  4. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 01:00 – 01:20 “Went to Mérida, started working in tourism making trips. So I was looking for new places to take people and those, those explorations brought me out here to the Maracaibo Lake around 1990 and uh, and here I am in her country thirty-four years later, right here in the lightning hotspot of the world.”
  5. soundbite (Spanish)
    Local Resident: 01:30 – 01:39 “The first time I saw the lightning I was a small kid and didn’t know what was it. People said it was a lightning phenomenon called Catatumbo.”
  6. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 01:38 – 01:45 “As an actual phenomenon it’s not, it’s not, it’s not just lightning storms. There’s a wonderful phenomenon here.”
  7. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 02:00 – 02:21 “Electricity and clouds is formed by massive convection. The very humid air rises and water particles are clashing together as the air rises, that’s what causes the charge. This is so warm and so humid from these warm waters, there’s a lot of water particles and very, very active, that’s what causes so much, so much electric charge.”
  8. soundbite (Spanish)
    Local Resident: 02:26 – 02:39 “We were fishing and then we ran away because it was very dangerous and it might hit close to the house. It’s dangerous and then they end up hitting close. It scares us a bit, but it is nice that we continue to have the lightning.”
  9. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 02:43 – 02:51 “I remember the night I got here and I was faced right in front of it you know, for the first time. I knew I was here,I knew this was the spot you know. It was one of the best moments of my life.”
  10. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 03:06 – 03:15 “The original people that lived here thousands of years ago, the Bari, they said as well that these storms were a connection to their ancestors.”
  11. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 03:32 – 03:42 “The Catatumbo lightning is, is huge. It’s unique in the world. This is the one spot on earth with most lightning.”
  12. soundbite (English)
    Woman Tourist: 03:42 – 03:51 “It was really something magical. It was something that you would only experience here and, I don’t know, it’s something you have to come and see.”
  13. soundbite (English)
    Man Tourist: 03:51 – 03:58 “It’s kind of like a full moon, or it’s like a hundred full moons in the sky at once.”
  14. soundbite (English)
    Alan Highton, Catatumbo Guide: 03:59 – 04:17 “I feel humbled to be here on this planet. And then when it comes to such an extreme to be under this power and under this marvelous manifestation of, of nature, you feel, you feel small. On one side you feel great but, and it is very, very humbling.”