How Does It Rain Fish?

Jillian O Keeffe

Fish don't usually fall from the sky, but this unusual meteorological phenomenon is possible although rare. The best explanation for this odd occurrence is that strong air disturbances, such as tornadoes, can lift water and fish up into the air. Then, the tornado can carry them for some distance. When the tornado becomes weaker, its energy is not capable of holding objects up off the ground any longer, and it begins to rain fish. This can also be referred to as "animal rainfall," but often, the event is simply described as "raining fish."

Waterspouts may lift fish up into the air and carry them for some distance before dropping them from the sky.
Waterspouts may lift fish up into the air and carry them for some distance before dropping them from the sky.

A tornado is a very strong wind that twists around itself. The inside of the tornado, known as the vortex, contains calm air. The outside air moves upward and around the calm center. The air at the bottom of the tornado is constantly moving upward, so as the air moves, new air is pulled up after it. This draws in objects underneath the tornado and sends them upward.

A waterspout is a tornado-like vortex that occurs in or above water.
A waterspout is a tornado-like vortex that occurs in or above water.

Fish live in water, but tornadoes usually begin over land. If the tornado then moves over water, it can create what is known as a waterspout. Instead of pulling air upward, it pulls water upward. Fish in the water can also be drawn out at the same time.

Waterspouts can move at speeds of up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) an hour. This means that fish can travel far away from their original location. The waterspout can only maintain its violent energy temporarily, and when it loses momentum, it can rain fish. Fish may, surprisingly, survive the waterspout and the fall to the ground. If the air inside the tornado is cold enough, the fish may also freeze.

The meteorological phenomenon of waterspouts does not just have the capability to rain fish. Over the centuries, there have been reports of skydiving frogs, crayfish, and lizards. Stones can also fall from the sky.

One report from the mid-1900s even tells the story of a rain of candy. Most of the unusual rainfall items can be traced back to water sources. With items falling from the sky, another more mundane possibility is that they were dropped from an aircraft.

A feature of events that rain fish or other items is that usually only one type of object falls on one area. Scientists suggest this is because each item differs in weight and size from others. The lighter and smaller objects tend to be carried for longer periods than heavy and large objects.

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Discussion Comments


@jonrss - It is probably not actually possible for it to rain frogs. The only reason it can rain fish is that they exist in great concentration in bodies of water. But there are few if any places where there are tens of thousands of frogs just sitting around in the same place. Sorry to burst your bubble. I have seen Magnolia and I love that scene. There is a part of me that always wished it would happen where I lived. It would be terrifying at first, but might end up seeming kind of magical.


Has anybody seen that movie Magnolia? At the end it rains frogs over Los Angeles. One of the the themes of the movie is that the extraordinary is possible, even taken to the extreme. I wonder if it is actually possible for it to rain frogs or if this just came out of the filmmakers imagination?


I used to love this metal band called rain of fish. I thought it was just a clever title. Lots of metal bands will use violent of unusual images as band names to create a picture in the minds of listeners. I guess this one was based on fact. When I actually think about it, fish rain does not sound all that metal.


I live in Missouri where we have had several huge tornado over the last few weeks. The destruction has really been terrible. I don't mean to minimize anybody's loss or all the terrible things that have happened, but I wonder if it rained fish anywhere? Maybe after things calm down I will find someone to ask.

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