Of the many crazy, weird weather phenomena, my favorite has to be the accounts of unexpected objects and animals raining from the sky. Frogs have been reported falling from the sky in Kansas City in 1873, and then again in Serbia in 2005. In 1947 in Louisiana, it rained fish. Fish also fell out of the sky by the hundreds in Australia in 2010. Many other things have been reported raining down from above including squid, tomatoes, golf balls, and snakes! Of course, learning this left me with a million questions which meant that I spent the better part of a Sunday down various research holes.
Let’s start with one question I had: how do frogs (or any other animals) get up into clouds? Since clouds are made of water droplets that have bunched together after evaporating from the Earth’s surface, it seems highly unlikely that there are undiscovered frog colonies within the clouds. So then, there must be a force strong enough to lift dozens of frogs up into the air. Strong wings could accomplish this. Tornadoes and hurricanes have been known to lift houses and trees. I’ve seen the wind during a thunderstorm move trash cans, so surely some strong wind could pick up something as small and light as a frog. Of course, this high wind would have to occur somewhere where there are lots of frogs. This is where tornadic waterspouts come into play. Besides being a phenomenal potential band name, tornadic waterspouts are believed to be the potential cause of frog rain by many scientists.
Tornadic waterspouts are essentially tornadoes that form over land and move out over water. These swirling funnels of air have a low pressure vortex in the center surrounded by rotating updrafts. This can be powerful enough to ‘vacuum’ up air, water, and small objects the waterspout happens to pass over – like frogs. The frogs could be held high in the air by the storm as it travels over more water or land. Of course storms don’t last forever, so the tornadic waterspout would eventually lose some energy. Once the storm loses enough energy, the winds won’t be strong enough to hold the frogs up in the air anymore and they will ‘rain’ down to Earth. Unfortunately, this quick journey to the ground is often not kind on fish, frogs, and other unwitting storm passengers, although some have been known to survive!
So while I was not able to find any historical reports of cats or dogs raining from the sky, it seems there might be a little more behind this adage than I once thought. There are many incredibly, wacky, absurd, inspiring, wonderful things that happen on our Earth including raining frogs. I challenge you to find a topic that interests you, and do some research! If you need me, I’ll be learning about ball lightning and moonbows (right after I start Connecticut’s newest band, “The Tornadic Waterspouts”).
This content was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
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Aoife Ryle is a STEM Educator at the Connecticut Science Center. In addition to working with school groups, she works with our Teen Program, Overnights department, and shoots weekly science segments for WFSB. She has a degree in Bioengineering from the University of Maine and has a personal interest in the life sciences and engineering which makes bioengineering a perfect crossover.