When it rains animals – True weather weirdness


Animals falling from the sky like oversized organic raindrops may seem like the stuff of urban legends and Paul Thomas Anderson movies.

But it’s an absolutely real phenomenon…probably. Here’s a rundown of nature’s most bizarre and seemingly impossible weather.

It’s raining fish… But how is that possible? Picture by Freaking News

When It Actually Rains Cats and Dogs

Accounts of animals mysteriously falling from the sky are found throughout the history of many cultures – the first century Roman writer Pliny the Elder mentions rainstorms of frogs and fish. It’s a rare occurrence, to be sure, but there are engravings of raining animals dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Even just looking at the last decade turns up a bunch of examples of this strange phenomenon. There are tons of eyewitness accounts throughout history that support their existence. Even if some, perhaps even most of them are false or mistaken in some way, there’s still a lot of evidence to support the idea that animals really do sometimes rain from the sky.

Japan

The most common types of animal rain appear to be those involving fish and amphibians. The last five years alone have turned up reports of raining fish in Australia, the Philippines, China and two different regions of India, while frogs have fallen as far afield as Japan and Hungary. Take this report of tadpoles falling from the sky in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture in June 2009:

Clouds of dead tadpoles appear to have fallen from the sky in a series of episodes in a number of cities in the region since the start of the month. In one incident, a 55-year-old man who was caught in a tadpole downpour described hearing a strange sound in the parking lot of a civic centre in the city of Nanao. Upon further exploration, he found more than 100 dead tadpoles covering the windshields of cars in an area measuring 10 square meters. Dead tadpole downpours were also reported by local officials 48 hours later in the city of Hakusan in the same prefecture.

What could possibly be causing all these animals to fall from the sky?
What could possibly be causing all these animals to fall from the sky?

Australia

Then there’s the fish which rained down on the tiny town of Lajamau in Australia’s Northern Territory on February 24 and 25, 2010. The town had previously seen such fishfall in 1974 and 2004. The tiny white fish, which were most likely spangled perch, fell by the hundreds on the remote Australian town:

It rained fish in Lajamanu on Thursday and Friday night. They fell from the sky everywhere. Locals were picking them up off the footy oval and on the ground everywhere. These fish were alive when they hit the ground. I haven’t lost my marbles. Thank God it didn’t rain crocodiles.

USA

Even that’s nothing compared to this account of fish falling over Marksville, Louisiana way back on October 23, 1947. Louisiana Department of Wildlife biologist A.D. Bajkov offered this account:

There were spots on Main Street, in the vicinity of the bank (a half block from the restaurant) averaging one fish per square yard. Automobiles and trucks were running over them. Fish also fell on the roofs of houses…I personally collected from Main Street and several yards on Monroe Street, a large jar of perfect specimens and preserved them in Formalin, in order to distribute them among various museums.

China, Iran and India

On June 13, 2018, an severe storm engulfed the city of Qingdao in China knocking down electricity and damaging vehicules. And some sea creatures started to fall from the sky.

sea creatures fall from sky china, Octopus falls from the sky during a furious storm, sea animals fall from sky china
Octopus falls from the sky during a furious storm in a coastal city in China on June 13, 2018

Beginning of May 2018, other reports of animals dropping out of nowhere were received from China, India and Iran.

Ethiopia

In February 2016, fish rained on Sunday at 11; 30 pm in Dire Dawa City Eastern part of Ethiopia for a few minutes both in rural and urban areas. People were so stunned and baffled, the referred this strange animal rain as a blessing from Almighty God.

Explaining the Rain

What could possibly be causing all these animals to fall from the sky? First it is important to start eliminating a good percentage of these stories. Sometimes, animals will cluster and even die en masse in a seemingly unusual location – for a particularly dramatic example, remember all those dead birds falling from the sky? – and it wasn’t rain that brought them there. The Library of Congress explains:

Because of the popularity and mystery surrounding stories about raining animals, some people falsely report an animal rainfall after seeing large numbers of worms, frogs, or birds on the ground after a storm. However, these animals did not fall from the sky. Instead, storms fill in worm burrows, knock birds from trees and roofs, wash fish onto the shores of rivers and ponds, and drive frogs and other small animals from their habitats. People who live in suburban or urban environments tend to underestimate the number of organisms living around their homes. Therefore, they may suspect that animals came from the sky rather than their natural habitat.

Still, even once you throw out those misreported incidents, and you dismiss most accounts before, say, fifty years ago because of inadequate documentation, there’s still plenty of legitimate incidents left over. The possible explanations for these range from the absurd – evidence of the apocalypse or other supernatural happenings – to the sublime, such as when forest officials in India speculated that raining fish were the result of pelicans dropping their food during their migration.

In a cool bit of historical trivia, the first scientist to really seriously attempt to figure out what was going with these stories of raining animals was the French physicist André-Marie Ampère. He suggested at a meeting of the Society of Natural Sciences, sudden gusts of violent wind could lift large groups of frogs high into the air, and then when the burst of wind dissipated they would rain back to the ground.

Up the Waterspout

For what was likely little more than a bit of idle speculation, Ampère was more or less correct. The currently favored explanation for animal precipitation involves waterspouts, a special type of tornado that forms over bodies of water. These are capable of sucking up animals in their path and transporting them high up in the air. Because these waterspouts and other types of tornadoes are on the move, when they do eventually break open and release their unwilling passengers, the animals will be far away from their original habitat, hence the appearance of animals raining from nowhere.

That’s the probable cause of the majority of these animal rainstorms, and the aquatic nature of these waterspouts helps explain why most of these storms seem to involve either fish or frogs. As for other, even rarer animal storms like those involving worms or spiders, it’s easy enough to invoke other types of whirlwinds or just a particularly violent updraft to get the animals high enough to rain back down.

The currently favored explanation for animal precipitation involves waterspouts
The currently favored explanation for animal precipitation involves waterspouts. Picture via Flickr

There are only two real problems with this explanation:

  • The first is more just a random little mystery than anything else, but it is weird that accounts of raining animals always seem to involve just one species. It’s always either raining fish or raining frogs, but it never seems to rain fish and frogs. (Or cats and dogs, for that matter, and no, there’s no evidence that that expression is related to actual accounts of raining animals.) Waterspouts and tornadoes shouldn’t discriminate like that. It’s possible that only tightly concentrated clusters of animals are dense enough to cause these rainstorms, which would make it more likely that only one species is involved. Still, it’s a bit of an enigma, and one worth looking into further.
  • The other minor problem with the waterspout hypothesis? Just the tiny little detail that nobody has ever actually seen it happen. Lots of people have seen the supposed result of raining animals – a lot of animals dead on the ground where they’re not supposed to be – and a decent subset of those have actually seen the creatures fall from the sky. But nobody has ever managed to see a waterspout pick up a pond’s worth of life and carry them thousands of feet into the air. Admittedly, it isn’t wise to stand that near a waterspout when it’s doing its thing. But under the circumstances, I think we can only really call this a provisional explanation.

Lluvia de Peces

While some places seem to attract raining animals more than others – remember Lajamau, Australia and its forty years of occasional fish rain – there’s probably nowhere in the world more familiar with this bizarre phenomenon than the Department of Yoro in the Central American country of Honduras. The department’s capital city of Yoro is said to be home to an almost yearly rain of fish that supposedly dates back over a century. I say “probably” and “supposedly” because, well, firsthand documentation of this phenomenon is scarce. A member of Seattle University’s International Development Internship Program offers one of the few available English language accounts of this phenomenon from his travels in Honduras back in 2006, though he is only able to describe what others told him:

A massive storm hits the surrounding countryside of the village with swirling winds and thick, pouring rain. Out of no where appear dozens of live fish right there on the fields, flapping in the rain water. The locals believe this to be a miracle from God, finding no explanation other than fish falling down from heaven. In the 1970’s, National Geographic sent a few professionals to report on this world wonder. They discovered that all the fish were approximately the same size, around 6 inches, and completely blind. They identified the species but found no record of it in any surrounding bodies of water. Their theory was that these fish are from underground rivers, never exposed to light and thus blind. How they come to appear every August with a storm is still a mystery.

Lluvia de Peces, fish rain, Lluvia de Pecesphenomenon honduras
Lluvia de Peces in Honduras. Picture via Flickr

Of course, if those fish are coming from underground rivers, then it’s possible the intense August storms simply force these fish up onto the streets rather than having them actually rain down from the sky. The other, rather more unlikely idea is that the non-local fish are somehow being brought in from the Atlantic Ocean a hundred miles away, but it really seems to defy belief that a yearly cycle could carry fish from the ocean to this one small town and nowhere else.

While this particular example is probably on shakier ground than the others – indeed, as the most extraordinary claim of the bunch, it requires the most extraordinary evidence, and there’s not all that much of that – the existence of raining animals as a general phenomenon seems reasonably certain.

As legends go, it’s one of the more insane ones, and yet this is one of the exceedingly rare examples where there’s probably something to it…although it still pays to be skeptical when evaluating specific cases.

[IO9]

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