You’re fishing in the middle of a lake..A fish bites and you start reeling it in but… suddenly there’s a metallic taste in your mouth. You can feel your arm hair standing on end. Where did those big clouds come from? Suddenly a big flash of white light hits a boat near you. That was close. You’d better rush to shore. Because on this lake, there are more than 20 lightning strikes every minute.

Lake Maracaibo, known as the lightning capital of the world, is located in northwestern Venezuela. The lake has the Guinness World Record as the place with the highest concentration of lightning. It also sits on top of one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world. According to NASA, Lake Maracaibo receives an average of 250 flashes per square kilometer (0.4 square miles) every year.

These thunderstorms are the result of the cool Andes Mountain breezes colliding with the warm winds of the Caribbean Sea. The highest number of flashes of lightning are seen from April to November, peaking in September. Lake Maracaibo supports more than 20,000 fishermen. They risk their lives every day and get struck by lightning frequently. When does lightning strike the most? How can you tell if lightning is about to strike? And what are your chances of surviving a lightning strike?

Step 1. Travel Safe

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations before traveling to Venezuela. You might have to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Violent crime is unfortunately high in Venezuela and the city of Maracaibo, where you’ll be staying. You need to stay alert at all times. Keep a low profile and do not wear expensive jewelry, clothes or other accessories that might attract attention.

Guard your money well. Try not to carry too much cash on you if possible and only use well-lit ATMs from recognized banks. Stay in groups and stick with legitimate taxi services to move around the city. Hire a well-established tour company to go to the Lake. Do not venture out on your own.

Step 2. Read the Weather

You can usually rely on the weather reports to tell you if a storm is coming, but they may not report more localized lightning events. Cumulonimbus clouds are tall, bright and white. If you see them forming rapidly, a thunderstorm is developing and lightning might be about to strike. Audible thunder, darkening skies and increasing winds are also signs of a storm approaching.

Fishermen know that dusk is a good time for the fish to bite, but unfortunately, this is the time when the lightning show begins. NASA scientists estimate that starting at dusk, lightning strikes Lake Maracaibo approximately 28 times a minute for up to nine hours. Seasonal predictability studies are a new technique that scientists hope will help the locals around Lake Maracaibo be better equipped to avoid the flashes of lightning in this region.

Step 3. Beware the Buzzing

Static energy fills the air just before lightning occurs. This is where you might sense the hair on your arms standing on end. And you may feel a physical tingling sensation in your body. This means it’s only a matter of seconds before lightning might make contact around you. Hearing buzzing, crackling or vibrating in metallic objects around you is a bad sign.

This means that there is an electrical current passing through these objects. Put some distance between you and these objects to avoid being shocked. Smelling or tasting something similar to chlorine in the air is a good sign that it is likely filled with an electrical discharge. If that taste becomes metallic, you are already experiencing some form of electrical current.

Step 4. Look for Shelter

If you are on the lake as all this is happening, you should move toward the shore as fast as you can. Once you are on land, head to a building with wiring and plumbing or an all-metal vehicle. This will provide nature with a bigger target than you to hit. Wait for 30 minutes after hearing the last thunder before going back outdoors. If you are stranded outside, stay away from tall objects such as trees, poles and wires. Crouch down, tuck your head and cover your ears. You need to stay low with minimal contact with the ground.

Step 5. Don’t Row Your Boat

As a human standing on an open boat, you are officially the highest point and a perfect target. The electrical discharge from the lightning is likely to go through you if the boat is struck. If you can’t reach the shore, it’s time to drop anchor. Put on a life jacket and stay low in the center of the boat. For extra safety, there are portable lightning protection systems you can attach to your boat.

They consist of a tall mast connected to a submerged ground plate by a copper cable. If there’s a cabin, get inside and stay away from all the metal objects, appliances and electrical outlets. According to the National Weather Service in the U.S., only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed. But the remaining 90% could be dealing with burns, ruptured eardrums and the fallout from cardiac arrest.

Visiting Lake Maracaibo can be a wonderful experience if you follow basic safety protocols. Some other places, like Lake Natron, are a different story. Its water could poison you and eat away your flesh. What happened to the documentary crew that fell into it?

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