The strange story of the fish rain of London.
“I’ve been in this house for 71 years – nothing’s ever happened before, nothing like that…” recalls Londoner Ellen Langton.
It was a rainy night in this London street. Ellen Langton & her husband were indoors relaxing in front of the TV. Suddenly, a sound quite unlike raindrops starts hitting their roof. Too wet and cold to venture outdoors, they went to bed….
“When we came out next morning, there was fish laying on the ground here and along the garden,” recalls Ellen Langton. “Some along the window ledge and some on the path. Then I had the builder and when he put the ladder on the roof, they were all on the roof as well. I thought someone was playing a prank on us, that the builder was having a laugh.”
Even though it had been raining cats and dogs – where on earth could 30-40 Smelt and Flounder fish have come from ?
“One of my neighbours said did the cat drop it on there ? Was it a bird, I said I don’t know ? Well the paper came and photographer came and took photos of the fish and interviewed my husband and then they were taken to the museum.”
The fish found their way to London’s Natural History Museum – and fish curator, Oliver Crimmen.
“I knew that it had been reported in the past that fish had fallen from the sky with rain,” says Crimmen, “but I had the idea it was associated with tropical climates and it was an exotic phenomenon. So to get a call there’d been fish falling from the sky in London seemed very bizarre to me but then another call and another, it started to add up that something interesting was going on. “
After examining the fish, Oliver was able to be pretty certain where they were from: not the sea – but London itself.
“Of course the interesting thing about them being smelt and flounder … is that these are the most common fish in the nearby Thames.”
…but the Langton’s home is at least a mile away from the river.
So unless they dropped out of a plane – or were dropped by birds – how had they got there ?
“The usual explanation for this, the mechanism that is most likely is that a waterspout, a cyclonic wind moving over water can pick objects up and we know whirlwinds can pick up quite heavy objects so travelling over water, there’s no reason why they couldn’t pick fish off the surface,” says Crimmen.
Water spouts can form more or less anywhere – there are hundreds a year in Florida – the UK gets at least 15 per annum.
But how could a load of fish get sucked up in one & be dumped over a mile away ?
Ross Reynolds at the University of Reading is waterspout king!
“The waterspouts disturb the water surface … maybe tens of meters across … they will throw spray up. And they will pick up light fish, draw them up in the spray and maybe up into the cloud proper. They will fall out over land.”
Waterspouts are a sort of weak tornado. Certainly not the kind of thing suburban Londoners are used to…
“I’ve been in this house for 71 years and nothing has ever happened before like fish coming down or anything like that,” says Ellen Langton.
There are stories of money, frogs, frozen squid, cigarettes and even Star Wars figurines falling from the sky…perhaps Ellen got off lightly after all. “… the builder said, come and get some chips and we can have fish and chips for lunch!” she laughs.