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Record-breaking lightning bolt lit up Oklahoma

Most lightning bolts last just a few milliseconds and travel fewer than a dozen kilometers. But scientists have just announced new world records for distance and duration of single lightning flashes—and boy, are they surprising. Reviewing data gathered by networks of sensors that monitor the electromagnetic radiation triggered by lightning discharges (the bursts of static so familiar to those who listen to AM radio), the researchers were able to triangulate the positions where lightning bolts originated and the routes they traveled. The distance champ (not pictured) leapt to life just south of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the middle of a long line of midafternoon thunderstorms on 20 June 2007 and then shot westward nearly to the Texas border—a distance of 321 kilometers (almost 200 miles), the researchers report online today in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. In addition to its cloud-to-cloud travels, the discharge also sent at least 13 bolts down to the ground, the researchers note. The longest duration single flash of lightning occurred over southern France in the early morning of 30 August 2012; it doubled back on itself and thus traveled a mere 160 kilometers, the researchers say, but it lasted a whopping 7.74 seconds.