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?

How Low Can They Go? Extreme Drought Reduces Western Lake Levels To Historic Lows

Finally, a shortage of something we can’t blame on the pandemic. What don’t we have enough of now? WATER. While we may be able to survive, although perhaps not comfortably or healthily, without toilet paper and Lysol wipes, humans simply must have water to live. Extreme drought conditions in the western United States are concerning as they have reduced levels of water bodies to historic lows. What’s going on and how bad is it really?

The fact that a drought is occurring does not in and of itself spell doom. Droughts are recurring climate events in most parts of the world. In fact, droughts are among the earliest documented weather events in human history. For example, the story of Joseph in the Bible is tied to agricultural shortages due to drought. Unfortunately, droughts are becoming more unpredictable and more extreme due to climate change.

Some folks may not be able to spell drought (HINT: Don’t rely on phonetics) much less be able to define it. So what exactly is a drought? A drought occurs when there is a prolonged period of abnormally low precipitation, either rain or snow. Effects of a drought include crop damage, water shortage, diminished water flow, and reduced soil moisture. Whether you look to water for drinking, growing crops, or a recreational venue, a drought spells bad news. (At least “bad news” is easier to spell than “drought.”)

The length of time a drought may last is one of its unpredictable characteristics. First of all, it is hard to tell when a drought commences because its effects don’t appear until after a prolonged period of low precipitation. Once underway, it can last for months or even (GASP!) years.

When asked to identify a devastating weather event, people are likely to say a hurricane or tornado. Nevertheless, according to the National Geographic Society, droughts are the second most costly weather event after hurricanes. A big part of that cost is agricultural losses. Why? Because water is needed to grow crops. While “agricultural losses” may not seem a daunting phrase, read that effect as meaning food production takes a hit. There will be less food to put on the table, and the food that is available will be more expensive.

Over 150 million acres of crops in the western U.S. are touched by at least a moderate drought right now. What specific agricultural losses could result? This year’s spring wheat harvest is 41% below the 2020 level. Producing almost half as much of this grain as the previous year’s output is a steep drop. Add oats to the drought’s hit list as well. According to Bloomberg.com, this year’s U.S. oat crop is expected to be the smallest since 1866. Yes, that’s 1866, over a century and a half ago. Yikes!

OK, but that’s just grain. But wait; there’s more! One hundred percent of the State of California is experiencing drought conditions at the present time. The Golden State produces 1/3 of the country’s vegetables and 2/3 of its fruits and nuts. Without sufficient water for the state’s crops, the entire country will suffer from the greatly reduced bounty from the land.

According to scientists, climate change intensifies drought conditions. What the western U.S. is now undergoing has been referred to as a “megadrought.” This time last year only about 20% of the West was experiencing “severe drought.” That number is up to 80% this year, and the area affected comprises nearly half of the continental United States and affects over 70 million people.

Utah is especially hard hit with more than 99% of that state classified as in extreme to exceptional drought, the two most severe levels on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Utah’s Great Salt Lake, the largest natural natural lake west of the Mississippi River, has seen water levels plummet to a historic low, breaking a record set over 50 years ago in 1963. Even scarier? It’s not even the point of the year when that water body typically hits its lowest levels. Thus, water levels are likely to continue dropping. How low will they go? We probably don’t want to know.

The Great Salt Lake is not the only water body getting slammed by the drought. Water levels at Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the country, have also reached a record low. As of Sunday, the lake had fallen to 33% capacity. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said last week it expects the lake’s elevation to drop another two feet by the end of this month. This declining water level threatens the Glen Canyon Dam’s capacity to produce hydropower for a number of states including Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Uh, oh! Less water, less food, and now less power.

Back in June, the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead which is located near Las Vegas, hit a record-low water level as well. I’m betting that’s not a good omen for Western residents. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are fed by the Colorado River and provide a critical supply of drinking water as well as water for irrigation for farms, ranches, and Native American communities. The two reservoirs are part of a river system supplying over 40 million people over seven states and Mexico. The handwriting on the wall is that people are going to have no choice but to institute water conservation measures.

These drought conditions should be a splash of cold water in our faces. We must realize our existence is tied to our environment. We have to recognize that water is a valuable resource and grasp just how dependent we are upon its availability. We need to give some thought to the future, both near and distant, and how we might better utilize and conserve what water is available. Turning a blind eye to droughts won’t solve the problem, and if you think it will, you’re all wet.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you take the availability of water for drinking and other uses for granted? Did you realize the drought in the West was so severe? Do the current extreme drought conditions affect your thinking about the impact of climate change in any way? If so, how?