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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Can it Really Rain Cats and Dogs?

Can it Really Rain Cats and Dogs?

Of course, we all know that it isn’t possible for the clouds to open up and hurl household pets to the Earth. So why does the English language include this oddity?

One possible explanation for the figure of speech is that, during the Middle Ages, heavy rains caused the streets in England to flood. These “raging rivers of filth,” as Farmers’ Almanac contributing editor Richard Lederer described them, were generally filled with trash and waste, including the corpses of stray cats and dogs.

Lederer has also suggested that there may be a more folkloric explanation for the phrase:

In the dark Ages, people believed that animals, including cats and dogs, had magical powers. Cats were associated with storms, especially the black cats of witches, while dogs were frequently associated with winds. The Norse storm god Odin was frequently shown surrounded by dogs and wolves. So when a particularly violent storm came along, people would say “It’s raining cats and dogs,” with the cats symbolizing the rain and the dogs representing the wind and storm.

There have, however, been verified reports of animals falling to Earth during severe storms. So, while it doesn’t really rain cats and dogs, it may actually rain fish and frogs. No one really knows for sure how or why this rare meteorological phenomenon happens, but the most widely suggested hypothesis is that a strong winds, such as a tornado or waterspout, suck the creatures out of ponds and rivers and carry them to dry land.

Stories of animals raining from the sky, technically called “non-aqueous rain,” have been with us for thousands of years, including one account in the Biblical Book of Exodus, where a one of the plagues called down upon Egypt is a rain of frogs. As fantastic as these stories sound, there have actually been several more recent incidents of non-aqueous rain around the world.

In the last year alone, fish rained from the sky in two locations: Bhanwad, Jamnagar, India, on October 24, 2009, and Lajamanu, Northern Territory, Australia, on February 25 and 26, 2010. That same time period has seen several reports of frog and toad storms: The Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan experienced numerous occurrences throughout the month of June 2009, while Rákóczifalva, Hungary, saw two storms between June 18 and 20, 2010. Other animals have also fallen from the sky in recent years, including worms over Jennings, Louisiana, on July 11, 2007, and spiders in Salta Province, Argentina on April 6, 2007.

11 comments

1 Wayne Lingard { 04.15.14 at 2:27 pm }

To prove it rains cats & dogs, just look out on the street. There are “poodles” all over. lol

2 jess { 02.27.14 at 8:52 am }

yes it can in a tornado

3 Dfdfdfsfsfsr { 02.18.14 at 9:27 am }

Yes it just rain cats and dogs a minute uh go ohh never mind that was my nighber

4 Kellie Hunt { 05.02.11 at 1:56 pm }

It was raining really hard one day and my husband says”Did you see that fish?”I asked him if he was on drugs!! He proceeded to go out in the downpour and brought a bluegill back in the house with him!!! I was flabbergasted to say the least.

5 Jaime McLeod { 11.15.10 at 9:07 am }

Hi Mike and Shalyn,
The origin story that you both mention has been around for a while, but language expert Richard Lederer has called this idea “dubious.” He wrote all about it on his website about a decade ago.

6 Shalyn McHart { 11.13.10 at 10:58 pm }

I must concur with Mike Gamble. I have heard the same story of the animals burrowing in the thatched roof, which became slick with rain causing them to slid out of their roof-top nests as though falling from the sky.

7 Mike Gamble { 11.02.10 at 4:08 am }

I was always told that the saying originated in Ireland or other contries where Thatched roofs (roofs made of straw) were common. In the heat of the summer, animals would burrow into the straw and sleep in their little roof top nests. If a heavy rainstorm popped up, it would wash the animals off of the roof. If you were looking out the window, it would literaly be “Raining Cats and Dogs”…

8 West { 10.31.10 at 8:13 pm }

As a young man growing up many times after heavy rain storms I have seen small tiny frogs all over the ground, I had always heard that they were rained down from the sky. Someone once said that as the sun pulls water from the streams and ponds it also takes up the small frogs and rains them back down again. I don’t believe this theory but it worked for me as a child. Also I have seen many night crawlers on the ground following rain storms. Does anyone else have a theory on this.

9 cindy { 10.27.10 at 4:59 pm }

Very interesting, I have wondered where the phrase raining cats and dogs came from and as a owner of a black cat I too have always believed that my Midnight had mystical powers, she showed up at my doorstep right before Halloween nine years ago at 12:00 (midnight), and got me to let her in when I was’nt a cat person, I’ve loved her ever since.

10 Lorraine { 10.27.10 at 10:11 am }

When I lived outside Dallas around 1980 it rained small shrimp that were in the hail stones. Made front page news that I had to send to my family in Philly. Never saw anything like that since.

11 Frutero { 10.26.10 at 12:16 pm }

Since foreclosures have increased, it has indeed rained cats and dogs on the county road. My dog and several of my cats are drops, as was my late buck rabbit. One, Midnight, was actually on the roof (I am downhill of the road). Whether such a phenomenon caused the saying, I don’t know, but it surely applies now.

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