Author Christina Couch Illustration Graham Roumieu
THE RED DIRT ROAD that leads into Lajamanu is usually traveled by Warlpiri Aboriginal villagers and the wild horses that roam the nearby grasslands. Located on the edge of the Tanami Desert in Australia’s Northern Territory, this arid outback town is more than 500 miles from the coast. Which made it all the more bewildering one afternoon in late February, when a heavy rainstorm opened up over Lajamanu and amid the raindrops came…thousands of tiny fish. Mostly young speckled perch—some frozen solid, others, remarkably, wriggling—they landed like heavy hail on porches and playing fields in bursts for two straight days. For weeks afterward, residents raked fish into garbage bags.
“It’s unusual, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen it rain fish,” says Mark Kersemakers, senior meteorologist at the Darwin Regional Forecasting Center. “We think that a waterspout or weak tornado sucks the fish up into the atmosphere and carries them into the tops of the clouds, basically freezing them in the process. The clouds drift south and dump the fish a long way from where the weather system originated.”
Instances of fish rain have been reported over the years throughout northern Australia and also in Japan, Singapore and Rhode Island. Lajamanu alone has seen it happen three times in the past 30 years. According to Kersemakers, fish aren’t the half of it.
“We’ve also had reports of little frogs being rained out during storms, which is even more strange,” he says. But the most bizarre incident of creatures raining from the heavens is a toss-up: either an 1871 hailstorm in Bath, England, that brought a downpour of jellyfish or another in Jennings, Louisiana, in 2007, that rained tangles of worms. All of which might lead the 650 or so residents of Lajumanu to count their blessings: At least it’s not raining sharks.