Raining Cats and Dogs

Raining Cats and Dogs

Mae hi’n bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc

All around the world people have evocative terms for particularly heavy rain. What is interesting about the English version is that it calls to mind one of those weird natural events that has mystified onlookers throughout the ages.

As Wikipedia helpfully puts it: A rain of animals is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which flightless animals fall from the sky. Such occurrences have been reported in many countries throughout history. One hypothesis is that tornadic waterspouts sometimes pick up creatures such as fish or frogs, and carry them for up to several miles. However, this aspect of the phenomenon has never been witnessed by scientists.

However the mechanics of it work, rains of animals – and all manner of other objects – have been recorded throughout history. And, of course, Wales has a few of its own tales to tell…

Mountain Ash Old Postcard

In February 1859 it rained fish at Mountain Ash. Thousands upon thousands of them. One morning, during a heavy rain with a stiff gale blowing from the south, fish began falling from the skies in a shower that lasted around two minutes. Then about ten minutes later another two minute shower of fish covered the area.

Monmouthshire Merlin 19/02/1859
The Monmouthshire Merlin of February 19th was one of the first newspapers to report on the event, telling readers: SHOWER OF FISH. – Much excitement has been occasioned in the valley of Aberdare, by the fact of a complete shower of fish falling at Mountain Ash, on Friday last. The roofs of some houses were covered with them, and several were living, and are still preserved in life and apparent health in glass bottles. They were from an inch to three inches in length, and fell during a very heavy shower of rain and storm of wind.

Vintage Mountain Ash Postcard

Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian 26/02/1859
On February 26th the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian presented a much more detailed report to the public:

THE SHOWER OF FISH. The curiosity of the inhabitants of Merthyr and Aberdare has been greatly excited during the past week by the fall of a shower of fish into Mr. Nixon’s yard, at Mountain Ash, Aberdare. Some few are also said to have been picked up at Troedyrhiew, so that, assuming they dropped from the sky, the cloud must have covered a considerable surface. 

Two feelings – those of wonder and doubt – have been excited by the report of this occurrence; and, as the circumstance if of interest in a scientific point of view, we have taken some pains to ascertain the facts. First the, we may accept as a fact sufficiently attested, that there was a deposit of fish in such large numbers as to render it necessary to sweep them out of footpaths; that his took place on Wednesday, the 16th inst., in Nixon’s yard, Mountain Ash; that the fish, thousands in number, were many of them alive, and remain so; that they are about an inch in length, of the minnow kind, or, strictly speaking, having more of the characteristics of roach or dace; and that they live in fresh water. They are dusky green on the back, and a silvery white on the belly; the dorsal fin commences rather behind the middle of the back; the head is larger, and the eyes more prominent than those of the minnow; and the tail is more deeply forked. These are the general characteristics, but they do not all appear to be of the same species.

The fact of the deposit being established, the next enquiry is how they came there. On this point also the testimony is explicit. They fell upon the tops of a shed, and some adjoining houses; a man who was passing by the time has his hat covered with them, and some of them still remain on the tops of the houses, and were alive in the troughs a day or two afterwards. It may, therefore be assumed as another point established, that they fell in the form of a shower.

And now we come to the rationale of the matter. Fish incapable of living without moisture, and the air incapable of retaining them, how could they live. Fish being of greater specific gravity than atmospheric air, how could they be taken up into the air and carried inland? We will endeavour to answer both questions. It is a known fact, that when two currents of water of equal force meet in a narrow place they form a whirlpool, and draw into the vortex everything that happens to float within their range. 
A similar phenomena is observed in the atmosphere. When two winds moving in opposite directions, and in a narrow space, as in one of our valleys, happen to meet, a vortex is the result, any cloud that happens to lie between them is condensed into a conical form, and turned round with great velocity; this whirling motion drives from the centre of the cloud all the particles contained in it: a vacuum is thereby produced, and water or any other body lying beneath the vacuum is carried into it, in accordance with a well known law in natural philosophy. Supposing such a vacuum to have been formed at the mouth of one of the rivers, there need be no great difficulty in accounting for the suction of small fry, and as the water deposited by a water spout, probably exists in the cloud in a condensed form, there is no more difficulty in accounting for that, than for the retention of these fry.
Lastly, a waterspout usually breaks from an inequality in the velocity of its constituent parts. The upper and less dense portion moves faster than the lower and heavier part. At sea, in such cases, the cone formed by the lower part is observed to incline sideways, or even to bend, and then finally to burst. Such was probably the case in this instance; the day was a rainy one, and in moving along the side of the mountain, the cloud may have escaped observation. But whatever may be thought of the suggested explanation, the fact is certain; we have seen the fish, and accept the testimony that they fell in a shower.

Oxford Street, Mountain Ash

Throughout March various newspapers carried the story, and the Rev. Mr. Roberts, a curate in Carmarthen, wrote a letter to The Times explaining:

“On Friday, the 11th of February, there fell at Mountain Ash, Glamorganshire, about nine o’clock, a.m., in and about the premises of Mr. Nixon, a heavy shower of rain and small fish. The largest size measured about four inches in length. It is supposed that two different species of fish descended; on this point, however, the public generally disagree. At the time it was blowing a very stiff gale from the south. Several of the fish are preserved in fresh water, five of which I have this day seen. They seem to thrive well. The tail and fins are of a bright white colour. Some persons attempting to preserve a few in salt and water, the effect is stated to have been almost instantaneous death. It was not observed at the time that any fish fell in any other part of the neighbourhood, save in the particular spot mentioned.”

Oxford Street in Colour, Mountain Ash

The story was even interesting enough to merit a mention in the Annual Register for 1859 – click the link to read the entire tome online at Archive.org – under the heading SHOWER OF FISH:

If anyone has entertained doubts as to the possibility of this phenomenon, his hesitation will be put to rest by a well-certified occurrence at Mountain Ash, Glamorganshire. At 11 a.m. of the 9th of February, during a heavy rain, a stiff gale blowing from the south, a very large number of small fish were precipitated upon the fields and housetops at that place. The phenomenon was witnessed by a great number of persons: the Rev. Mr. Roberts, curate of St. Peter’s, Carmarthen, and the Rev. John Griffith, the Vicar of Aberdare and Rural Dean, made inquiries on the spot, in order to preserve the facts of this curious occurrence. The following is the testimony of John Lewis, a sawyer, who was the principal witness –

“On Wednesday, February 9, I was getting out a piece of timber, for the purpose of setting it for the saw, when I was startled by something falling all over me — down my neck, on my head, and on my back. On putting my hand down my neck I was surprised to find they were little fish. By this time I saw the whole ground covered with them. I took off my hat, the brim of which was full of them. They were jumping all about. They covered the ground in a long strip of about 80 yards by 12, as we measured afterwards. That shed (pointing to a very large workshop) was covered with them, and the shoots were quite full of them. My mates and I might have gathered bucketsful of them, scraping with our hands. We did gather a great many, about a bucketful, and threw them into the rain-pool, where some of them now are. There were two showers, with an interval of about ten minutes, and each shower lasted about two minutes or thereabouts. The time was 11 AM. The morning up-train to Aberdare was just then passing. It was not blowing very hard, but uncommon wet; just about the same wind as there is to-day (blowing rather stiff), and it came from this quarter (pointing to the S. of W.). They came down with the rain in ‘a body, like.”

Mr. Griffith collected 18 or 20 living specimens of the unexpected visitants and transmitted them to Professor Owen. The three largest were four inches long. Some, which died after capture, were fully five inches in length.

Jenny Randles wrote in Truly Weird: Real-life Cases of the Paranormal (1998) that “a shower of glass beads fell on Swansea in 1984.” Google proved completely unhelpful in verifying that, but if you know more about this – or any other fall of unexpected items – I’d love to hear from you!

For more like this please click the image below:
Weird Wales

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