Weird Weather


Some days it's too hot, others it's too cold and sometimes meat falls from the sky. Halli talks about some of the strangest weather phenomenon and the superstition surrounding them! 

The Kentucky Meat Shower

On 3 March 1876, large hunks of flesh fell from the sky over Olympia Springs in Bath County, Kentucky.

According to a New York Times article published the following week, the phenomenon occurred right nearby the house of one Allen Crouch, whose wife was outside making soap when it happened. 

Episode: File 0028: Hell: Locusts with a Chance of Meat Showers Pt. 1

Release Date: May 21st 2021

Researched and presented by Halli

"The meat, which looked like beef, fell all around her. The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it fell like large snowflakes." 

Back at the Crouch residence, a Mr Harrison Gill - whose veracity was described by the The New York Times as "unquestionable" - visited the day after the alleged flesh falls and noted the presence of meat sticking out of the fences and scattered across the ground. At least one of the hunks measured 10 centimeters squared, but most were about 5 x 5 cm. They were apparently fresh when they fell, but having been left out all night, they were now spoiled and dry.

Two unidentified gentlemen turned up to taste the meat-rain and declared that it had the flavor of either venison or mutton.

later, when someone called Leopold Brandeis received and analyzed some of the specimens that had been preserved in glycerin. He announced that the 'meat' was not actually meat at all. 

"At last we have a proper explanation of this much talked of phenomenon," it was reported in Scientific American that year. "It has been comparatively easy to identify the substance and to fix its status. The Kentucky 'wonder' is no more or less than nostoc."

A type of cyanobacteria that forms colonies surrounded by a protective gelatinous envelope, nostoc is known to swell up into a translucent jelly-like mass whenever it rains. Because it's so inconspicuous when dry, for many years, people believed nostoc to float on the breeze until it rained, which caused it to fall from the sky like hail. Colorful nicknames such as "star jelly", "witch's butter", and "star-slubber" were thrown around.

Brandeis identified the Kentucky nostoc as belonging to the species Nostoc craneum, which he described as "flesh-coloured" in The Sanitarian. But really, it honestly just looks like the color of seaweed. It tastes like frog or spring chicken legs, he said, and had ballooned and fallen upon the Crouch residence when it rained.

But wait a minute, what rain? Didn't the Crouches report it to be a perfectly clear night?

Fortunately, Brandeis didn't play a completely useless role in the investigation, because he had given a couple of mystery meat samples to experienced histologist and president of the Newark Scientific Association, Dr. A. Mead Edwards, who said it was likely the lung tissue of a human infant or a horse. Another histologist, Dr. J.W.S. Arnold, studied the specimens and agreed, concluding in The American Journal of Microscopy and Popular Science that they consisted of some kind of animal cartilage and lung tissue.

Eventually, seven samples were examined by several scientists, who confirmed two to be lung tissue, three to be muscular tissue, and two were said to be made of cartilage. So how did they come to be involved in the Infamous Kentucky Shower of Flesh?

Enter the man with the best explanation for the "shower of quivering flesh" that we're probably ever going to get - Dr L. D Kastenbine, who wrote in a 1876 edition of the Louisville Medical News that it was, quite literally, a coordinated bout of projectile vulture vomit.

Having obtained a sample of his own, Kastenbine set fire to it and observed that it smelt distinctly of rancid mutton. 

"The only plausible theory explanatory of this anomalous shower appears to me to be that suggested by the old Ohio farmer - the disgorgement of some vultures that were sailing over the spot, from their immense height, the particles were scattered by the prevailing wind over the ground," he wrote. "The variety of tissue discovered - muscular, connective, fatty, structureless etc - can be explained only by this theory."

Two species of vulture are found in Kentucky - the black vulture (Coragyps atratus) and the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) - both of which are known to projectile vomit their stomach contents away as either a defense mechanism or to make themselves light enough for flight. So maybe?

Slope Point

Slope Point, the most southerly spot on New Zealand's South Island, is perched upon rugged cliffs that dip into the sea. Cold winds tear through the air, battering the land and all that grows upon it. The weather is so fierce that the whipping winds have left a patch of trees weirdly warped.

The tangled trees stretch sideways rather than upwards. They're bent at odd angles, their branches permanently coiffed to the side like a permanent, ill-advised hairdo.

Sheep farmers planted the trees to give their flocks shelter from the wild weather. Cold air whirls around the Antarctic Ocean uninterrupted, causing the winds to gain immense strength before hurling themselves at whatever objects they first encounter. The trees struggled to bear the brunt of the windy assault, causing them to bend northward.

On a pleasant day, beams of sunlight spotlight the gnarled knot, giving it the appearance of a surreal piece of art. Against the ominous gray skies of a drearier visit, the mangled mass seems almost sinister.

Slope Point is a beautiful place to explore. Green pastureland stretches toward the horizon, leading to the rocky cliffs that plunge into the water below. The place is sparsely habitated, apart from the sheep that dot the landscape.

A sign by the road gestures toward Slope Point. You'll know you're there when you come across a canary yellow sign that gives the distance between your location, the South Pole, and the Equator.

But it's not the power of the winds that keeps people away and shapes the trees of Slope Point, it's their constant presence at all hours of the day and night. Novelist Trevor Cree once described the winds of Slope Point like this: 

"It is not a wind that will necessarily break and snap at will, although clearly it can, it is its sheer relentlessness, like a gnawing toothache, that never ceases until total submission from the victim is achieved."

The Time the Word 'Tornado' Was Forbidden

On March 25, 1948 near Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, a big storm was brewing. Only days before, the base had been hit by an unexpected tornado, which caused over $10 million in damage.

The base's Major General was determined to avoid another disaster. So, according to Chris Kridler at the Baltimore Sun, he ordered two meteorologists, Captain Robert Miller and Major Ernest Fawbush, to figure out a reliable way to predict tornados. And that's just what the forecasters were trying to do on March 25 as the conditions for a twister began to materialize in the distant skies.

That day, Miller and Fawbush would become the first meteorologists to make an

official, accurate tornado prediction. It was a watershed moment in weather forecasting-up until then, tornados were so difficult to predict that it usually wasn't even attempted. At various points until 1950, in fact, the Weather Bureau completely forbid or highly discouraged forecasters from using the word "tornado" altogether

Was tornado forecasting once banned in the U. S.? 

Yes. Before 1950, at various stages of development of the Weather Bureau, the use of the word "tornado" in forecasts was at times strongly discouraged and at other times forbidden, because of a fear that mentioning tornadoes may cause panic. This was in an era when very little was known about tornadoes compared to today, by both scientists and the public at large. Tornadoes were, for most, mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation. As the weather patterns which led to major tornado events became better documented and researched, the mystery behind predicting them began to clear--a process which still is far from complete, of course. In 1950, the Weather Bureau revoked the ban on mentioning tornadoes in forecasts. The precursor to SPC spun up two years later.

"This was in an era when very little was known about tornadoes compared to today, by both scientists and the public at large," writes the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center on their website. "Tornadoes were, for most, dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation."

Research undertaken in the 1880s had created a list of criteria for conditions that could lead to a tornado, but the efforts "fell out of favor, partly because the government was afraid of causing panic," writes Kridler. The idea was that even uttering the word would risk a needless fear frenzy amongst the public. But Miller and Fawbush's work would help change that. Kridler explains:

Miller's study of the ocean's layers of temperature and currents helped him to think of the air in terms of levels, too, according to Charlie Crisp, a meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman. Miller and Fawbush created composite charts that juxtaposed data from different altitudes and noted wind direction, temperature and moisture.

The Storm That Never Ends

For 140 to 160 nights out of the year, for 10 hours at a time, the sky above the Catatumbo river is pierced by almost constant lightning, producing as many as 280 strikes per hour. Known as the "Relámpago del Catatumbo," (relámpago means lightning in Spanish) this lightning storm has been raging, on and off, for as long as people can remember. The area has been labelled as the most electric place on Earth and it even made it to the Guinness Book of World Records.

It was first written about in the 1597 poem "The Dragontea" by Lope de Vega. De Vega tells of Sir Francis Drake's 1595 attempt to take the city of Maracaibo by night, only to have his plans foiled when the lightning storm's flashes gave away his position to the city's defenders.

This happened again on July 24, 1823, when, during the Venezuelan War of Independence, Spanish ships were revealed by the lightning and defeated by the Simón Bolívar's upstart navy.

In fact, the lightning, visible from 400 kilometers away, is so regular that it's been used as a navigation aid by ships and is known among sailors as the "Maracaibo Beacon." Interestingly, generally little to no sound accompanies this fantastic light show, as the lightning moves from cloud to cloud-far, far above the ground.

For many years, it was unknown exactly why this area-and this area alone-should produce such regular lightning. One theory held that ionized methane gas rising from the Catatumbo bogs met with storm clouds coming down from the Andes, helping to create the perfect conditions for a lightning storm. Now, though, scientists attribute the lightning to a regular, low-lying air current coming from the Caribbean; they've set up an early warning system based on forecasts of when lightning storms will come. The highest concentration of lightning strikes can be usually observed in October, and the lowest in January and February.

With a total of roughly 1.2 million lightning discharges per year, the Relampago del Catatumbo is thought to be the world's greatest producer of ozone. As the lightning rips through the air, it produces nitrogen oxide, which is broken down by sunlight and converted into ozone. It is unclear, however, whether these molecules ever end up in the protective ozone layer high above the planet.

Between 1966 and 1970, Russian researcher Andrei Zavrotsky investigated the area three times, with assistance from the University of the Andes. He concluded that the lightning has several epicenters in the marshes of Juan Manuel de Aguas National Park, Claras Aguas Negras, and west Lake Maracaibo. In 1991 he suggested that the phenomenon occurred due to cold and warm air currents meeting around the area. The study also speculated that an isolated cause for the lightning might be the presence of uranium in the bedrock.

Between 1997 and 2000, a series of four studies proposed that the methane produced by the swamps and the massive oil deposits in the area were a major cause of the phenomenon. The methane model is based on the symmetry properties of methane. Other studies have indicated that this model is contradicted by the observed behavior of the lightning, as it would predict that there would be more lightning in the dry season (January-February), and less in the wet season (April-May and September-October)

A team from the Universidad del Zulia has investigated the impact of different atmospheric variables on Catatumbo lightning's daily, seasonal and year-to-year variability, finding relationships with the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the Caribbean Low-Level Jet, and the local winds and convective available potential energy. Using satellite data, two groups of researchers have provided analyses of the lightning's location, timing and number of discharges per square kilometer.