A Fish Falls in Mexico: A Brief History of the Strange Phenomenon of Marine Life Raining From the Sky

The Tuesday weather forecast in Tampico, Mexico, called for light rain. It did not call for fish, but that’s what residents got along with the precipitation.

Related: NASA satellite maps may help Mexico recover from multiple earthquakes

“Curious case in Tampico where there was a slight rain that included small fish that literally fell from the sky,” the Tamaulipas state Civil Defense Agency wrote in a brief statement posted on Facebook. Take a look:

As anyone who has seen Sharknado is aware, the phenomenon of sea life raining down from the heavens is not new. Outside of the series of C-list-heavy TV movies, there are several real-life recorded instances of the skies raining fish or frogs.

Scientists believe these occurrences are caused by extremely strong winds resulting in waterspout tornados, which then suck up whatever small fish reside in the body of water over which the tornados formed. Here are some recent examples.

  • In 2004, what the BBC described as a “fishy deluge” rained down on Knighton, a village in Wales.
  • In 2009, “clouds of dead tadpoles” unloaded on multiple cities in Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture over several days. Local meteorologists did not think the tadpole rain was due to waterspouts, as no strong winds had been reported in the area.
  • A year later, miniature frogs rained on Rákóczifalva, Hungary.
  • In 2010, an Australian desert town, Lajamanu, which is more than 300 miles from the nearest river, experienced two days of fish-infused rain. Mark Kersemakers, the senior forecaster at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said the fish could have rained down from up to 50,000 feet in the air. “Once they get up into the system, they are pretty much frozen,” he said. “After some period they are released.”
  • Sri Lanka experienced both a “prawn rain,” in 2012, and a downpour of fish in the district of Chilaw two years later. Villagers collected an estimated 110 pounds of fish after the edible storm abated.
  • In 2016, it rained fish in areas of India in which waterspout tornadoes had become common. “There have been instances wherein carts were flung away for half a kilometer in Odisha,” said Bhanu Kumar, an oceanography expert and environmentalist from Andhra University, told the Times of India. “Similarly, the tornadoes also let the fish fly in the sky up to a kilometer or so before they are flung down.”

  • Fish-filled rains were also recorded in India in 2008, 2009 and 2015.
  • It also happened in eastern Ethiopia in 2016, with fish raining on Dire Dawa, whose residents took the event as a blessing from God as they collected the fallen fish off the ground.

The most famous occurrence in the 20th century was probably the Great Fish Fall of Marksville, which took place in October 1947 in Louisiana. “We heard all this noise when the fish fell on the tin roof,” said a witness. “My maid, whose name was Viola, ran outside, and she was so upset. She kept saying, ‘Oh Lord, I think it must be the end of the world.’”

The fish fell on Marksville between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. They were as long as 9 inches. Two merchants were struck. Though the weather that morning was relatively calm, tornadoes had been reported in the days preceding the event, and the fish that fell were freshwater species native to surrounding bodies of water.

Other instances of fish-filled rain were recorded in Scotland in 1684, Maryland in 1829, Singapore in 1861, Florida in 1893, Germany in 1896, Nepal in 1900, Canada in 1903, New Zealand in 1924 and Ireland in 1928. In other words, it's not that uncommon, and it's been happening for centuries. In fact, it's been happening for longer than just centuries. Roman author Pliny the Elder, who lived from 23 A.D. to 75 A.D., wrote of fish storms. The phenomenon has also been cited as a possible scientific explanation for the second plague of Egypt, during which frogs filled the Nile and covered the Earth.

That’s about as far back as we can take this...or anything.

Though the phenomenon inspired Sharknado, the most memorable fictionalized occurrence of a marine life storm comes at the end of the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia, when Los Angeles is graced with a downpour of frogs, confounding viewers.

The film’s bizarre ending resulted in a new level of interest in the waterspout phenomenon, which, apparently, isn’t dissipating anytime soon.

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