Fish, Not Raindrops, Keep Fallin’ On Our Heads

B.J. Thomas sang about raindrops falling on his head in a hit piece from the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” While there’s nothing unusual about raindrops descending from the sky, fish plummeting to earth from above is pretty unnerving. As if 2021 wasn’t crazy enough with a pandemic and emerging variants, the year came to a close with a weather phenomenon known as animal rain causing a stir in Texas. Fish unexpectedly dropped in on the Lone Star State–literally. Holy carp!

Don’t believe this event occurred? Just visit the Facebook page of Texarkana, Texas, a town located some 200 miles from Dallas in east Texas. On December 29th, the municipality reported fish falling from the sky around and about town and provided photo evidence. [See https://www.facebook.com/texarkanatexas.] Landing sites included residential properties and a used car lot. Posts on social media with video and pictures of fish which had rained down from above on Texarkana residents abounded. At least one resident took advantage of the unusual event by grabbing a bucket and collecting the palm-sized fish lying about to use for bait.

What in the world was going on? The label affixed to such an event is “animal rain.” It’s a rare meteorlogical phenomenon where flightless animals fall from the sky. Such occurrences have been reported throughout history. Way back in the 1st century A.D., Pliny the Elder (not to be confused with Pliny the Younger), a Roman naturalist and author, documented storms causing frogs and fish to fall from the sky.

Yeah, sure, but Pliny’s sighting was ages ago and on a different continent. Nevertheless, reports of fish plummeting from the sky have been made right here in the United States during modern times including in Marksville, LA in 1947; in Philadelphia, PA in 2016; and in Oroville, CA in 2017. The Oroville event was quite a learning experience for the pupils of one local school who were out at recess when it began. Fish hit several of the students and littered the playground and school roof with fish.

The U.S. doesn’t have the corner on modern day fish showers though. Singapore experienced a rain of fish in 1861. Rural inhabitants of Yoro, Honduras claim that every summer there is what they call Lluvia de Peces, or fish rain. I’m betting there’s not a fresh rain smell in Yoro after that shower.

According to the BBC News, fish are the most common creature to descend when there’s animal rain. However, other creatures can come down as well. Frogs made an aerial descent on Kansas City in 1873 and on Dubuque, Iowa in 1882. Snakes dropped down on Memphis, TN in 1877. Jellyfish rained down upon Bath, England in 1894. Worms sprinkled Jennings, LA in 2007 and a Scottish school in 2011. Spiders fell from the sky in Goulburn, Australia in 2015. Octopi and starfish rained down upon Shandong Province, China in June 2018. On the bright side, all the falling creatures were small and not cats and dogs.

How is it possible for land-based (as opposed to sky-based) creatures to end up high in the air only to plummet down on our heads? The hypothesis is that tornadic waterspouts pick up small creatures from bodies of water and carry them for some distance, even miles, after sweeping them up. Since waterspouts can spin up to 100 mph, it is not difficult to imagine small animals being pulled into the funnel.

But as waterspouts move over land, their swirling energy is lost, and they must dump their heavy loads. The cloud then releases objects of a similar weight at the same time with the heaviest items being jettisoned first. So, fish would drop before raindrops based on their weight. With this scientific explanation, some have speculated animal rain may account for the Biblical plague of frogs in Egypt, a story which is related in the book of Exodus.

Updrafts may also be responsible for sweeping up creatures for a wild ride before releasing them to terrorize people below. An updraft is a wind current caused by warm air from high pressure which is near the earth which rises into cooler, low-pressure areas in the atmosphere. Winds are likely to catch small creatures such as bats and birds to later rain down on startled people.

The idea that any type of creature might be falling from the sky down on my head is enough to make me want to routinely carry an umbrella for protection. I’d take getting wet over getting walloped by a fish or bombed by a bat or bird any day. Perhaps weather forecasters will take notice of these unusual events and advise us when it might be cloudy with a chance of fish fillets rather than meatballs.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Before reading this post, had you ever heard of animal rain? How would you react to seeing fish plummeting from the sky? If a small creature had to drop from above, what would you most like to spot coming down?

“It Never Rains In California,” But It Just Did Atop The Greenland Ice Sheet

This week Hurricane Ida dumped inches of rain, in some cases over a foot, along its path. While rain is part and parcel of a hurricane, it is not expected to fall at the summit of an ice sheet where below-freezing temperatures are the norm. Therefore, scientists were astounded when rain fell for several hours on August 14th at the highest elevation of the Greenland Ice Sheet– the first time such precipitation was ever recorded there. Although not as much in quantity as Hurricane Ida produced, the summit rainfall was just as disturbing.

Raindrops fell on scientists heads off and on for thirteen hours some 10,551 feet above the Greenland Ice Sheet mid-month. No one knows exactly how much precipitation came down because there are no rain gauges at the National Science Foundation’s Summit Station. Such a weather event was unprecedented since scientists have been making observations there, so who would think to install a rain gauge?

Although rain has occasionally fallen on the Greenland ice sheet itself, rainfall has never occurred on its summit–until now that is. Guess there’s a first time for everything. With below freezing temperatures, snow is the precipitation scientists anticipate. And temperatures have risen above freezing at the summit only three times previously in the last 32 years.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Scientists are unsettled not only by the rain falling on the summit but by the fact it is falling at this time of the year. Mid to late August marks a change from summer to autumn in the far north. This progression of seasons should result in lower temperatures and snow for precipitation if any is to come down.

This anomalous weather, scientists believe, is the result of global climate change. While the actual rain event did not itself have a huge impact, it illustrates the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland. You don’t have to hold an advanced science degree to understand global warming means higher temperatures which lead to ice melting, be it ice cubes in your glass or ice sitting on top of the largest island in the world.

And the Greenland Ice Sheet is a gargantuan piece of ice. It covers 660,000 square miles, around 79-81% of the surface of Greenland. Talk about ice, ice baby…Its surface area is almost as big as Alaska and over three times that of France. This ice sheet is the second largest ice body in the world with only the Antarctic Ice Sheet being bigger. From north to south the Greenland Ice Sheet extends 1,800 miles, the equivalent of stretching from Key West to a hundred miles beyond Portland, Maine. The ice is thick as well as long with the average thickness generally over 1.2 miles and around 2 miles at its thickest point. That’s one big ice cube!

With this much ice, what’s the big deal with a little bit of rain? The deal is that ice melts snow. When rain falls on the summit of an ice sheet, generally the water percolates down into the packed snow to colder temperatures where it refreezes and doesn’t drain away. On the other (hopefully mittened) hand, rain falling on the periphery of an ice sheet can generate a significant of melt water that runs off the ice sheet and into the ocean raising sea levels.

When it rained at the Greenland Ice Sheet’s summit some two miles above sea level, the precipitation coincided with a “melt event” where the temperature gets high enough that the thick ice on the ice sheet begins to melt. Northern Greenland has experienced record-setting temperatures this summer. Some areas experienced temperatures more than 18 degrees Celsius warmer than average temperatures. In fact, 2021 even saw the latest date in the year when above-freezing temperatures were recorded at the Summit Station. So, the location is high up and experiencing record high temps.

The August melt event affected 337,000 square miles and followed two major melt events in July. The later July melt event affected 340,000 square miles. Previously, there were melt events in 2019, 2012, and 1995; before those occurrences, no melt events had taken place since the late 1800’s per the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. (They have a center for everything, don’t they?)

When the ice melts, it has to go somewhere. As an ice sheet melts, global sea levels rise. Rising sea levels are a concern because nearly one-third of the world’s population lives in or near a coastal zone. Everyone likes waterfront property or being near the water, but they may get more than they bargained for if too much ice melts. The Greenland Ice Sheet contains 8% of the Earth’s fresh water. If all that ice sheet’s ice melted, global sea levels would rise 24 feet. That’s over the head of anyone reading this post.

Thankfully, the situation isn’t that dire yet, but it is still concerning. The melt event which occurred at the end of July was of such a scale that the amount of ice which melted on one day of that event alone would cover the entire state of Florida with two inches of water according to the World Meteorological Organization. Woo hoo! All Sunshine State residents could then say they lived on the water; unfortunately, there would be no dry land for sunbathing.

While too much rain, as in the case of Hurricane Ida, is a bad thing, rain where and when none is expected is also a bad thing. The Greenland Ice Sheet may not be located anywhere near us and we may never set foot on it, but what happens to that part of the Earth can and will affect all of the world’s inhabitants. Let’s hope the story of rain falling at the summit of this ice sheet will not fall on deaf ears; instead, let the weather story be a wake up call to what’s happening to the planet we call home.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are you surprised to learn that rain fell at the summit of a massive ice sheet? What weather events have convinced you or would convince you that global warming is occurring? Have you considered the ramifications of rising sea levels on coastal communities?