It’s Raining Fish

Unusual objects sometimes fall from the sky, courtesy of waterspouts.

Waterspouts near St. Thomas. [CREDIT: Jan Havelka - OK1NU]
By | Posted September 17, 2006
Posted in: Physical Science
Tags: , ,

Just before last New Year’s Eve, Carl and Kathy Hennige of Folsom, California e-mailed their local newspaper to report some strange weather. It was raining fish.

Although it may sound like some sort of mythical event, the Henniges weren’t telling tales. Neither were people in Manna, India, who reported seeing live, pencil-sized fish falling from the sky in July. It can happen, say scientists. The culprit: waterspouts.

Waterspouts, which are essentially tornadoes over water, form when cold air moves over warm water. They churn at speeds up to 200 miles an hour, but dissipate when rain begins to fall from their host cloud. Depending on how fast the winds are whipping, anything that is within about one yard of the surface of the water, including sailboats or fish of different sizes, can be lifted into the air, says Nilton Renno, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan.

A waterspout can sometimes successfully suck small objects like fish out of the water and all the way up into the cloud. Even if the waterspout stops spinning, the fish in the cloud can be carried over land, buffeted up and down and around with the cloud’s winds until its currents no longer keep the flying fish in the atmosphere. It’s like the fish are swimming in the cloud, says Renno. Depending on how far they travel and how high they are taken into the atmosphere, the fish are sometimes dead by the time they rain down. People as far as 100 miles inland have experienced raining fish, he explains.

Fish can also be sucked up from rivers. The Henniges’ condo is just one mile above Lake Natoma and the Nimbus fish hatchery, where they think the fish came from. Carl Hennige writes in an e-mail that there was “an enormous windstorm” just before the fish fell.

Raining fish is not a common weather phenomenon. Fewer than 10 occurrences have been reported in the past year, according to a news search, so local five-day forecasts probably won’t include fish showers. Still, people have reported such events for centuries.

In the early 1900s, Charles Fort, a collector of stories of odd weather happenings, theorized that there was an ocean orbiting the earth that occasionally dropped its creatures onto the planet, writes author Richard Cerveny in his book, Freaks of the Storm.

Now that scientists have advanced technology like Doppler radar, they are less reliant on personal accounts. Fewer people are asked to describe the odd objects they see falling from the sky, says Cerveny, who is also a professor of weather and climate at Arizona State University. Also, people are less likely to report any strange occurrences now than they were 100 years ago. Cerveny explains that today, logical explanations through science are more readily available, so there is less mysticism behind strange weather phenomena. “They tend to sound more kooky now if they report it,” he says. Even though fewer personal accounts of strange weather have not necessarily hurt meteorology, “maybe it has taken away some of the fun of it,” says Cerveny.

Stories of raining fish, frogs or even turtles are an effective teaching tool for Cerveny when he lectures or gives presentations. “Everybody in that kind of a setting loves to hear about odd and unusual weather,” he says. Sometimes after a presentation people pull Cerveny aside, saying, “Well, when I was a kid…”

So keep an eye out, because next time the clouds open up, it may be more than raindrops that keep falling on your head.

Posted in: Physical Science

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  1. What an interesting article, and beautifully written! I had no idea there were such things are water sprouts! Way to go, Susan!!!

    Sarah Cosier, September 18, 2006 at 6:21 pm
  2. This makes obsolete the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” Another well-written article by a soon-to-be-famous environmental writer!

    Nan Cosier, September 18, 2006 at 9:13 pm
  3. Nice article, almost as good as the recent Dental Detectives by famed writer Julie Leibach.

    Jayson Stephens, September 19, 2006 at 12:46 am
  4. Obviously I know Mr. Stephens, Susan ;)

    Julie, September 21, 2006 at 11:07 am
  5. “Raining fish is not a common weather phenomenon.” um…

    beach, September 23, 2006 at 4:29 pm
  6. It may be totally unrelated to waterspouts, but how far above a body of water have fish been dropped and survived the fall?

    randi vanderkaay, May 28, 2007 at 1:50 pm
  7. I’ve heard of this before and it is quite interesting. I’ve also heard of a jelly-like substance falling during heavy rains. Apparently it is the result of a very dry moss mixing with the water. Go figure.

    Aaron Usher, June 12, 2007 at 5:52 pm
  8. Thanks for the explanation! When I was a little girl, I lived for about a year in a small town called Port Aransas, TX (on the Gulf of Mexico, near Corpus Christie). I remember it raining “little fishies” several times — in fact I used to put my bucket outside when in rained in hopes of getting a few. Also the little depression in the yard would fill with water and become a pond .. complete with fishes (which would grow and eventually die as the water evaporated!) When I moved up North and out West and tried to tell about this in my classes in school, I was punished for being a liar!!! No one believed me! So .. at long last .. VINDICATION!! haha!

    Deborah S., July 28, 2007 at 11:03 am
  9. I was watching a movie and they had mentiond some about it raining fish and something with haveing to do with clouds and I had to look it up. I did not belive it, untill now. This is the beauty of nature. Great story!!!

    Sharise, November 25, 2007 at 2:21 am
  10. the article is convincing on its presentation and organization of ideas, but the fact is not adult fishes,frogs or turtle are blown to the atmosphere but the eggs of such species.modern technology states that because of the low density of this eggs, they are easily blown away to the sky.please check first the facts before you expose it to the public

    anthoddiemn olin m. navarro, January 14, 2008 at 5:17 am
  11. I heard about raining fish but I don’t know how it happens. So now thanks for this information.

    Tadoscoppernicus, April 17, 2008 at 4:45 pm
  12. I am very happy to have found this site. I have been ridiculed and laughed at most of my life when ever I bring up the fact that I have seen this occur. It was when I was a young kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old. I was on the covered front porch with my Grandpa in Ft.Smith, Arkansas in about 1959 or so. We both saw them coming dowm, but he didn’t seem to think it was so unusual. We were located about 3 miles from the Arkansaas River. These were little tiny fish and mixed with tiny frogs. (NOT TADPOLES).The cats had a field day! But there were many hundreds of both in my Grandfather’s yard , A neighbor, about an eighth mile down the road did not get any! I often wondered about a waterspout as the answer, but wonder why ONLY this particular fish and frogs and nothing else? Why not some debris? All the fish were dead upon impact, but many of the frogs were still hopping!

    Jim Cunningham, May 21, 2008 at 6:27 pm
  13. ammaging

    raj, July 14, 2008 at 1:41 am
  14. Just watching the movie “NEXT” and Nicholas Cage brought this subject up. so…I thought I’d look this up for factual reasons and a bet with my husband. Well it makes perfect sense to me now!
    Just to be able to see the different reasons for things and having the technology (humbly) to do so… Is there a scripture in the Bible about this????

    Sonya, July 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm
  15. That’s so funny – I am watching the movie “Next” right now and just passed that scene where Nicolas Cage brings up this subject.

    Haha..so it’s true! Great to see this explained scientifically.

    Laura, November 2, 2008 at 7:19 pm
  16. Haha Laura, im watching NEXT atm and I wanted to check the internet for information regarding it after Cage brings it up xD

    Zuhdi, December 20, 2008 at 2:54 pm
  17. narley

    Lance, March 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm
  18. im watching the movie next. just heard it. this is amazing. I wish some would come down in new philadelphia ohio… that would be an amaziing site to see. :D

    march, March 20, 2009 at 2:20 am
  19. tell me more aboutt your experiences.. http://www.myspace.com/tragic_story003

    march, March 20, 2009 at 2:22 am
  20. Wow, I have witnessed this once when I was 8 or 9 in Chennai, India. I almost convinced myself it was a dream until I started today to search it out…

    Srikanth, April 7, 2009 at 9:18 am
  21. hehe lol
    im doing project on this…..

    lilli, May 25, 2009 at 9:11 pm
  22. nice article. This wont make the cats and dogs theroy go to the way side Nan. Its raining cats and dogs comes from when people made there homes and used straw, hay, twigs and what ever. The animals would nest on the roof to keep warm at night. When ever they would have a heavy rain, the weight of the animal would make it fall through the soggy roof. Hence the term.

    jlrodd, September 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm
  23. there wasnt no ocean around the earth,i wouldnt care if you theorized

    joel jones, September 25, 2009 at 10:19 am
  24. Another thing to add to the raining cats and dogs saying…The reason why people had canopies over their four poster beds was to stop the rats, cats etc (and their poop) from falling on them while they were sleeping. Sure makes me glad to have a good old tin roof :)

    Emma, November 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm
  25. i love this story:)

    elisha, February 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm
  26. sike:)

    elisha, February 9, 2010 at 1:20 pm
  27. lol:)

    elisha, February 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm
  28. Q: what’s worse than raining cats and dogs?
    A: hailing taxis! lol

    rob h, March 1, 2010 at 8:47 am
  29. Really the write up is quite refreshing and enlightening, but simultaneously, I would also share the same phenomenon,which I had seen occuring,when I was a very small kid, but the memory is still afresh about that occurence. i belong to a very ubiquitious village of Ambedekar Nagar(Korjha) Faizabad U.P. , which has got a rivulet by the name of Tons- once during the month of the fag end of summer, it rained for 10 to fifteen minutes duration but with wind and force. when it stopped, i noticed the live three to four inches long and finger thick fishes quivering on the bed of a patched fields adjecent to the rivulet, which was completely dried during the summer.And the time passed , but reading yesterday in one of the newspapers that it rained fishes somewhere around the world has revived my own experience.Felt to share with your readers.

    S.I.M.Jafri, Librarian,The Aditya Birla Public School, Adityapuram,Chittorgarh,Rajasthan.(India)

    S.I.M.Jafri, March 4, 2010 at 12:00 am
  30. lolololol
    coooll thing

    lolololololololol, April 13, 2010 at 5:15 am
  31. lololoooolool sow coooooll

    lolololololololol, April 13, 2010 at 5:15 am
  32. in india i have heard many cases of peoples sighting fish fall even from persons who does not believe in hearing is believing, but they were unable to explain the cause. thanks for helping with this

    roshan linda, April 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm
  33. this is amazing and im duing a quiz on it.!my class will love this topic3

    ervion, November 3, 2010 at 8:14 am
  34. Why only Blackbirds?
    CNN: When birds fall from the sky
    Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin Monday will solve the mystery of why more than 1,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year’s Eve.
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/01/02/arkansas.falling.birds/index.html?hpt=C1

    Phil, January 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm
  35. I have just read a newspaper article of raining worms in Glasgow Scotland. Also,I remember a few years ago after it rained, my backyard was covered in frogs and my swimming pool was full of frogs and it wasn’t because my husband didn’t cut the lawn or clean the pool! Therefore, I am very happy to see that there is a scientific reason for this phenomena. Thank you.

    Daphne King

    Cape Town
    South Africa
    5th April 2011

    daphne king, April 5, 2011 at 8:35 am
  36. i think it can rain cats and dogs if they got picked up by a tornado. i guess its kittens and puppies though lol

    katie, August 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm
  37. I have to write a paragraph about this kind of phenomena. Also, I have to write some explanation, but I still can’t get it why only fish? In a topic that I’ve read said nothing else-no frogs, turtles, or water plants- fell, only fish. How could this happen??????????

    Oksi, March 31, 2012 at 2:39 pm
  38. When I was little I live in veracruz Mexico close to the ocean and it always rain frogs turtels and fish

    Karla, April 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm
  39. Fascinating story. Earlier this past week, on a beautiful clear summer’s morning, I noticed the lawn outside my home was littered with small silver-coloured fish. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing and have puzzled over it ever since. I live about a block from a Pacific beach and thought perhaps a heron, having collected a good catch from the shore, had regurgitated the lot while flying overhead. I related my story to a local wildlife photographer today and he told me friends had recently discovered the roof of their home littered with small fish also. I have to say that the local population of crows had a lovely picnic on my lawn in the afternoon.

    Sheila, September 1, 2012 at 12:27 am
  40. Until I read this article I had no idea it could rain fish. I hope I get to witness this someday!

    Mackenzi, September 25, 2013 at 10:14 am
  41. it is an interesting story but is is physicly imposible to rain fish perhaps you could throw a fish down from in airplane but its still not likely you do that.

    Atom, October 17, 2013 at 3:30 pm
  42. I witnessed it rain small pollywads ,aka, catfish when my family livedin Mason Texas in the early 1970′s.It was truly a sight to see. Ive tried to look it up on the internet but cant find it recorded. I tell people about it and they i nust have been smoking dope. Thanks for this site, now they have to believe it’s true.

    Donald Patterson, October 24, 2013 at 7:31 am
  43. u guys r morons

    leon kennedy, December 12, 2013 at 12:24 pm
  44. I like chicken ..

    LOVE, April 3, 2014 at 8:34 am
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