Raining Grasshoppers! (Or Fish or Meat or Blood): Strange Rains that sound downright Biblical

I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen.

Exodus 10:4-5

July, 2019: Is Las Vegas being overrun by a plague of locusts? Is the city of sin being smitten by an angry, vengeful god? …Well no, mostly because they’re actually grasshoppers, but also because we know why there was so many of them. Like my home of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Las Vegas has seen significantly more rain than usual this year and that’s led to a boom of pallid-winged grasshoppers. I can certainly relate to everyone dealing with these pests, as the same thing happened in Albuquerque back in 2014. The grasshoppers do not fly well, and quickly get themselves killed in a number of ways. Many ended on splattered on car windshields while plenty others were easy pray for birds, bats, or raccoons. While they will continue to linger around Las Vegas for weeks, the worst of their invasion is already over.

Although some of the video is incredible (or horrifying), what I found most interesting about the whole event were some of the radar returns from the local National Weather Service office, NWS Las Vegas. On the night of July 26th, the Las Vegas office responded to questions they had been receiving via Twitter. People were seeing what appeared to be large swaths of light-to-moderate rainfall when clearly nothing was falling, and were wondering what could be wrong with the radar. Of course we know the radar wasn’t actually detected rain, but millions of grasshoppers buzzing and flopping through the sky. Thankfully for the local NWS forecasters, radar sites come with analysis tools that help identify returns as rain, snow, ice, or animals!

Interesting stuff for sure, but the excitement and confusion got me thinking. It wasn’t actually “raining” grasshoppers in Las Vegas last month, but what are some of the truly strange precipitations that have fallen to Earth? What fell, where did it fall, and why?

Wildcard Weather’s History of Extraordinary Rain

Mexico, 2017: Raining Fish in Tampico

Our first entry comes from the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where small fish (about 1-2 inches in length) were observed falling from the sky during a light rain. As it was a modern occurrence, there is video evidence on social media.

Was it real? How did this happen? Where did the fish come from?

It was real! Multiple eyewitness accounts have confirmed that fish did indeed fall from the sky on September 26, 2017. The event received a fair amount of news coverage when it happened and there does appear to be a reasonable explanation. A waterspout, which is essentially just a tornado over a water surface, could have sucked up the small fish and dropped them onto Tampico. Tampico is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and is also surrounded by several freshwater lagunas (lagoon in English), providing ample locations for the waterspout to have formed. I suppose the only way to know where it was would be to identify the fish as a salt water or fresh water species, so tell me if you know what they are!

Raining fish isn’t actually all that rare of an occurrence, with other notable occurrences in Honduras, Singapore, and California. Other animals, such as small frogs, have also been reported. There was even a rain of golf balls one time in Florida when it is believed a waterspout made landfall on a golf course. Whether it be a waterspout, landspout, or tornado, objects big or small and be sucked far into the sky, and after that the old saying always proves true: What goes up, must come down!

Bonus Content! Sometime we’re the ones who make it rain fish!

Kentucky, 1876: Chunks of Meat Fall from a Blue Sky

Appearing in The New York Times on March 10, 1876, a Mrs. Crouch of Olympia Springs, Kentucky reported a rain of beef-like meat falling like large snowflakes across her property. The meat was typically a couple inches across and got caught on some fences when it fell, all below a clear, blue sky. It was even reported that two men tasted the meat, describing the taste as that of mutton or venison. Wildcard Weather DOES NOT condone the consumption of strange meat that fell from the sky!

The meat was collected and tested, initially being misidentified as a type of bacteria called nostoc before proving to be a combination of muscle, cartilage, and lung tissue. The most likely reason for the shower was later explained by a Dr. L. D. Kastenbine, who also got his hands on a sample of the meat.

β€œThe only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be that suggested by the old Ohio farmer – the disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, from their immense height, the particles were scattered by the prevailing wind over the ground.” The variety of tissue discovered – muscular, connective, fatty, structureless etc – can be explained only by this theory.”

Dr. L. D. Kastenbine

Two species of vultures are present in Kentucky: the black vulture and the turkey vulture, both of which have been observed to fly well above a kilometer in height. It is definitely possible that many could have vomited the meat to lighten themselves for flight, and then Mrs. Crouch either could not see the birds from the ground, or that the time it took the meat to fall allowed the birds to leave the area before being noticed. Gross!

The Black Vulture: One possible culprit for the shower of meat observed in Kentucky in 1876. Image credit allaboutbirds.org.

India 2001: The Blood Rains of Kerala

On July 25th, 2001, the state of Kerala in southern India witnessed a truly apocalyptic scene. In the middle of the Indian monsoons, the skies flashed and thundered before unleashing a blood-red rain. And as it was the monsoons, it rained quite a bit. The streets of India ran red with blood that day, and then again, several times over the next two weeks, not dissipating completely until September.

Flooding red rainwater in Kerala, India.

The blood rains came and went to much fanfare and speculation. The rain was collected and tested, the red particles found to be composed of carbon and oxygen with traces of iron and silica. Of course some truly strange possibilities were proposed: was alien DNA being seeded on Earth? Researchers reported no DNA in their samples. An exploding meteor? Nothing observed. What could it be? Eventually, India’s Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute declared that the red particles were spores of a lichen-forming algae that must have been released nearby after heavy monsoon rains. And so the mystery was solved… right?

Kind of. Interestingly, in 2013, the DNA for the algae was finally identified. Trentepohlia annulata, a species of trentepohlia algae found in Austria was the red particles in Kerala’s rain. This finding was later confirmed by a joint team of scientists from India and Austria in 2015.

Trentepohlia algae (not annulata)

Wait… Austria? As in Europe? Thousands of miles away? Apparently so, and there have since been repeat cases of the red rains in India. What is still not proven is exactly how the spores are transported all that way, meaning there is still an interesting meteorological mystery to be solved.

Trentepohlia annulata is not the only species that can cause red rain, and Kerala is not the only place where these rains have occurred. The villages of Zamora, Spain witnessed red rains in the fall 2014. Haematococcus pluvialis, a green algae that turns red when stressed, was identified as the culprit in that instance. (https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-11/f-sf-ar111215.php)

North Carolina, 2019: The Pollening

Imagine you’re picnicking on a beautiful spring day in the hills of America’s southeast. The chill of winter is finally behind you and many of the plants and trees are once again lush and blooming. You here a distant rumble of thunder behind you and turn around, expecting to to see impressive cumulonimbus clouds, or maybe a rainbow. Instead, you see green; a wall of green rain falling from green clouds. This is exactly what happened earlier this year in the area around Raleigh, North Carolina.

Photo taken by Jeremy Gilchrist (image contrast slightly enhanced to match appearance to human eye)

More algae? Maybe un-stressed Haematococcus pluvialis? Not this time, although many individuals in the area probably would’ve preferred the algae. It was actually pollen! Tree pollen specifically, mostly from local pines but definitely including a contribution from oaks and birch. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reported a pollen level of 1778.8 grains per cubic meter on April 8th, 2019, which you can imagine is very high and potentially dangerous to allergy sufferers.

The event is called a pollen bloom or pollen bomb: a sudden release of pollen from a single tree or forest, occurring when temperatures suddenly warm after a long winter. The pollen can be released so quickly that a bright, green cloud appears to lift up from the tree and be carried away. It is a very natural phenomenon and it is quite common for temperate forests. I can recall seeing a similar event occurring in Moscow only a few years ago. In that instance, as in this one from North Carolina, the pollen bloom was immediately followed by rains, which captures the pollen inside rain drops and brought it back down to the surface.

Spruce pollen blooming (Image credit Getty Images)

That’s it for today. Thank you everyone for reading and learning with me. Look out for more posts soon, and please give the post a follow or look for me on Twitter (@wildcardweather)

~Joe

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