April 11, 1998


An old joking reply to, "It's raining cats and dogs outside." The expression may be an exaggeration, but it's only a slight one.

An 1844 report tells of a rainy day in Selby, Yorkshire, when small frogs began dropping out of the sky in large numbers. Townspeople were able to hold out their hats and catch the tiny amphibians as they fell. In their 1982 book Living Wonders John Michell and Robert J. M. Rickard, record a number of such natural curiosities.
Decades before the Selby incident, 1789 to be exact, the Reverend Gilbert White of Selborne, England, a writer on natural history, concluded that the idea of frogs and toads falling out of the sky was a "foolish opinion" and declared it was the cooling effects of a sudden rainstorm that had tempted the creatures to hop out of their places of concealment on the ground. In 1877 a shower of baby alligators landed in South Carolina and such infant saurian showers have also descended in other parts of the Carolinas. One of the reptiles was even discovered in the air sack of the dirigible Macon in 1934, over the skies of California.

Reports have continued to surface. A 1929 waterspout in the Gulf of Mexico picked up a mass of fish and dropped them onto the decks of a nearby fishing boat. In 1956 a Mrs. Faye Swanson of San Mateo, California, went out in her backyard one October morning to discover the body of a dead monkey that appeared to have fallen from the sky and ripped through her clothesline before striking the ground and perishing. Investigators later determined that there had been no planes in the area that morning. And from the Wall Street Journal of August 25th, 1969, comes a story out of the Indonesian island of Lombok, that tells of farmers standing in their fields and watching, they say, as hordes of rats dropped from above and scattered among the crops, doing great damage.

Such heavenly outpourings seem to go back at least to the third century A. D., when the Greek writer-philosopher Athenaeus told of tiny animals dropping from the sky. And, of course, one of the ten plagues afflicting Egypt in the time of Moses was a rain of frogs. Whirlwinds, waterspouts, tornadoes, even spontaneous generation have been called up, to account for animal life falling from the sky or appearing in dirigible airbags. Whether you consider natural explanations, or Twilight Zone theories, I would like to submit, for your consideration, that a more modern reason may be the real culprit.

I can just imagine Pharaoh walking over to the portico of his palace, watching frogs rain from the sky onto the desert sands for a few moments, then turning back and remarking to one of his priests, "That El Niño has a lot to answer for."

© 1998 David Minor / Eagles Byte