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I image most people have heard stories of fish, frogs, or other small animals raining from the sky. I found quite a few articles on line with many instances of such occurrences but they were mostly from historic times and often from second or third person accounts. Then I came across this article from National Geographic which mentions two more recent accounts. The first they mention is a fish drizzle which occurred in Lajamanu, Australia in 2010 and the second is a frog fall which occurred in Odzaci, Serbia in 2005. Both of these events seemed to be backed up by meteorological claims of either tornadoes in the Australia case or waterspouts in the Serbia case.

What I'm curious about is:

  • If this is somewhat relatively common, with the abundance of video cameras now, why hasn't something like this been recorded. I've had no luck finding anything on line.
  • Why does it seem like it's always one type of animal?
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    $\begingroup$ Is this about the idiom 'it's raining cats and dogs?' $\endgroup$ – Eevee Feb 27 '18 at 2:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Imtherealsanic: No. It's about reports of small animals, mostly aquatic, falling from the sky. I've always thought it seemed outlandish but after looking into it a little more it seemed that it may be meteorlogically plausible. $\endgroup$ – wanderweeer Feb 27 '18 at 2:26
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Brian Dunning already went into this extensively in episode 4170 of Skeptoid: It's Raining Frogs and Fish

In 1901, a rainstorm in Minneapolis, MN produced frogs to a depth of several inches, so that travel was said to be impossible. Fish famously fell from the sky in Singapore in 1861, and again over a century later in Ipswich, Australia in 1989. Residents in southern Greece awoke one morning in 1981 to find that a shower of frogs had blanketed their village. Golfers in Bournemouth, England found herring all over their course after a light shower in 1948. In 1901, a huge rainstorm doused Tiller's Ferry, SC, and covered it with catfish as well as water, to the point that fish were found swimming between the rows of a cotton field. In 1953, Leicester, MA was hit with a downpour of frogs and toads of all sorts, even choking the rain gutters on the roofs of houses. The stories go on and on: More frogs in Missouri in 1873 and Sheffield, England in 1995, and more fish in Alabama in 1956.

From everything he read, waterspouts seem unlikely:

Not once in a single case of several dozen that I read was there ever a report of a tornado or waterspout in the vicinity, or even at all, no matter how far away. I conclude that waterspouts have no connection, either hypothetical or evidentiary, to the phenomenon of frogs, fish, or any other animals, falling out of the sky.

For frogs it seem to be coincidences of bad weather and frog migration.
Well, not really coincidence: they probably migrate more (often) when it's wet.
And for fish:

You don't find mass migrations of fish crossing overland, do you? Well, maybe not mass migrations, but believe it or not, there are fish species that occasionally take to the ground in search of better waters. There are many species of "walking fish" in the world.

The main reason that they did not fall from the sky is simple:

Drop a fish off a building, and that's a dead fish

That's why you won't find actual videos.

Brian concludes:

Go back and read any story you've ever seen about frogs and fish falling from the sky, this time allowing for the possibility that the animals were already naturally on the ground when the witnesses first discovered them. Allow for the possibility that some elements of the report, like the falling part, could be based originally on witness conjecture or assumption.

Which is more or less what Stephan also writes in his answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Although I agree with most points in the article I wonder about 2 things. I wonder if at least some fish/frogs could survive the fall - some humans have. Also, I would hope that somebody investigating such an event would recognize that the fish species that had fallen could not survive (walk) out of water and therefore could have only fallen to their present location. I still remain skeptical without video evidence, but some of the articles I've read quote meteorological sources that say it is plausible. $\endgroup$ – wanderweeer Mar 17 '18 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Some may survive, but that does not prove the claims of large numbers. 2. That 'human' article says nothing about height - maybe he just tumbled along the surface. This is exactly about the warning in the last quoted text. 3. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, i.e. the actual videos you ask for, not from some fish flapping in the mud. My bet is you won't find any. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Mar 17 '18 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ The article makes a lot of important and valid point. But there's one point that I don't think is correct. He argues "Never do objects ascend the inner column, because there is simply no mechanism inside for doing that." However, there are systematic studies that small items were actually transported by tornadoes up to 355km away (phys.org/news/2013-03-tornado-debris.html). So, while I agree about not taking reports at face value, I don't think tornados can be dismissed as a mechanism in a small number of unsusual cases. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Matthiesen Mar 17 '18 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you both for your input. I agree with the Carl Sagan quote and that if this does occur there should be some credible video evidence within the next decade. $\endgroup$ – wanderweeer Mar 17 '18 at 13:52
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I'll attempt some answer, but must admit it's a bit speculative. I think, like with many unusual/rare phenomena, there's a fair bit of observational bias and of psychology involved as well.

Mechanism

I remember reading about this in at least two popular meteorological publications, one book about extreme and strange weather and an article in (I think) in "Weather", the journal of the UK Meteorological Society. Unfortunately I don't have the precise source and have to work from memory.

My impression was that it's generally accepted that tornadoes and similar phenomena, which are known to lift and carry water and debris, can in principle sometimes pick up small animals as well, which then might fall at a certain distance when the tornado dissolves. One study shows that small items can be carried up to 355km far in tornadoes.

The tornado doesn't just stop suddenly, but gets weaker, so debris and possible animals wouldn't all fall at the same time like a huge swarm, but a few at a time in different locations, and it would only happen in rare circumstances.

Observations

There are also - as you also found - many historical reports. Many are collected by Forteans (going back to Charles Fort, who dedicated his life to collecting unusual observations), but are of varying quality, usually from casual observers, not scientists.

With such casual reports of unusual observations, often from newspaper and second/third hand, you have to consider that the story changes as it's told and may not be reported exactly as it happened. So, 2 or 3 fishes may become a whole swarm, and it may be reported that people saw them falling when in fact they just found some dead fish on dry ground and couldn't immediately work out where they came from.

That there are various effects that change peoples' perception of unsual phenomena, and how they are subsequently reported, is better established for other, more frequent sightings like ghosts or UFOs, and of course eyewitness reports of crimes, where there is huge body of psychological research. Basically, what people report (and sincerely believe to be a true observation) is often not exactly what happened, and media reports are even less reliable.

So, in some instances the "falling from the sky" may not actually be observed but an an explanation that people came up with after finding the animals. There are other reasons why aquatic animals can occur on land sometimes in large numbers. Frogs and toads migrate at spawning time in huge numbers, and also toads come out of the ground after a rain. Large number of fish can end up on dry ground when a river floods and recedes. I've seen it myself as a child when visiting relatives in the countryside that a field was full of dead fish and wondered where they had come from, but my relatives told me the area had been flooded at spring melt. It was not at all obvious to me that a rather small stream could flood so much, so I can well imagine that somebody might conclude that they must have fallen from the sky.

So it's not so easy to establish how frequently it really happens that animals fall from the sky. While (unlike ghosts) it's not scientifically impossible and a credible mechanism (tornadoes) exists, it's rare enough that we don't have really good, comprehensive observations.

Now for your questions:

Why one type of animal?

It seems generally fish and frogs. I think there are two reasons, one meteorological and one psychological.

A tornado has to pick up the animals in the first place. These would be have to be small animals. Now, the density of fish and frogs in a pond is often very high, so if a tornado moves over a pond or lake sucks up water, there is a chance that it would lift hundreds or thousands of fish or frogs, so it is much more likely, when thy fall, that they are seen or found.

Small land animals, like mice, tend not to live in such dense populations, and also run away or bury themselves in the ground. So while some will certainly be sucked up in a tornadoe, it's much less likely and probably not many.

The second factor is psychological. Many observations are not actually of the animal falling down, but of animals lying on the ground that shouldn't be there. So, if there's a fish or frog lying in dry ground after a weather event, people would notice and report it. If they find a dead mouse, they wouldn't find it unusual and forget about it.

Also, mice are good at falling from height, so they may survive and just run away and never be seen, whereas a fish on land will just die and start to stink after a while (and therefore be noticed...).

Why no videos?

There's an observational problem here. Ideally a scientist would like to observe first the animals being sucked up, and then falling. Now, tornadoes are not that easy to observe at close range, so observing animals being sucked in is technically very difficult.

Observing when the animals fall is in principle possible, but probably extremely unlikely. First of all, the event itself is unlikely (see above). Then, when it happens, more frequently it's probably just one fish suddenly coming down unexpectedly, not a longer "rain" of fish. So unless you were already filming for some other reason and catch it by chance, you wouldn't have time to get out the camera and actually film it falling.

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  • $\begingroup$ As far as the types of animals: I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear about this. I find it interesting that it's either always all frogs or always all fish. Why not a combination of frogs and fish? Perhaps size would be such a limiting factor that it could be only one? As far as video evidence: I'd hope with the preponderance of video cameras that if this phenomena actually occurs it would be recorded and widely disseminated for anybody in the scientific community to scrutinize. $\endgroup$ – wanderweeer Mar 17 '18 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I misunderstood what you mean by "one type of animal". I think the reason is again where the animals come from. If aquatic animals occur in great density, it's usually only one type. A pond at spawning time will contain hunge numbers of frogs because they all migrate into it at the same time, but much fewer fish. Other waters may contain fish swarms. Frogs and fish don't normally go together in equally large numbers. That's all assuming the tornado mechanism. Most likely many reports are just due to animals appearing for other reasons, e.g. frog migrations, then they would be one species. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Matthiesen Mar 17 '18 at 12:14

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