Is it possible to rain frogs, cats, dogs, etc.?

Dear Cecil:

I read recently in the paper that approximately 1,000 frogs rained from the sky on a city in France. Is this actually possible? Do I need to take cover next time I see a dark cloud overhead? Help, I don't want to croak!

Cecil replies:


No princess is going to kiss you if you make puns like that, Joey. I didn’t see the news report you did, but yes, it’s possible for critters to rain from the sky. Usually waterspouts are to blame, although you can’t rule out a passing Aloha Airlines flight. Waterspouts can suck stuff out of a body of water and carry it for miles. There have been dozens of reports of falling fish, usually small ones, although a few years back some startled folks in India beheld a rain of eight-pounders. There are also reports of raining frogs, birds, grasshoppers, hay, grain, and so on.

This may lead you to think waterspouts or their inland cousins the whirlwinds are the source of the expression “raining cats and dogs.” But there are many competing explanations. A sample: It comes from the Greek catadupe, waterfall. In other words, it’s coming down in cataracts. It comes from the Latin cata doxas, contrary to experience, i.e., it’s raining unusually hard. In Germanic mythology cats were associated with storms and rain, whereas dogs were attendants of Odin the storm god and were symbols of the winds. Ergo, raining cats and dogs means you have a lot of wind (the dogs’ department) and rain (the cats’ bailiwick). In medieval London stormwater would sluice down the narrow streets and drown stray cats and dogs, whose corpses would then be discovered in the gutters afterward by the emerging humans. Aha! they said, it must have rained C&D.

Finally, since you started it, you’ll just have to endure the following from Gary Lockhart’s Weather Companion (1988), from which much of the foregoing derives. Q: What’s worse than raining cats and dogs? A: Hailing taxicabs. Painful, ain’t it?

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