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Weirdest of Weather: Did a Waterspout Dump Fish on Central Oregon Coast in the '90s?

Published 03/24/21 at 12:50 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Weirdest of Weather: Did a Waterspout Dump Fish on Central Oregon Coast in the '90s?

(Lincoln City, Oregon) – One of the rarest and weirdest of meteorological encounters is a thing called “animal rain.” It’s long been documented throughout history: essentially when a waterspout picks a lot of objects – or in this case critters – and dumps them somewhere else. In most cases, it’s either fish or frogs that get sucked up into a waterspout or tornado, and then dropped before a stunned set of human eyes. (Water spout in Depoe Bay, photo above courtesy David Galvin. The glowing blobs in the upper right are indoor lights).

Did this happen on the central Oregon coast in Lincoln City in the ‘90s?

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It’s entirely possible, but it’s far from proven. Still, Oregon Coast Beach Connection did have a kind of witness to this, someone who told staff this tale a good five years before the publication was started.

The story comes – ironically – from the family of Christian rocker Larry Norman, who lived the last two decades of his life in Salem. Norman was the first to actually put out records combining Christianity and rock in the late ‘60s. The idea of an animal rain already has a distinct biblical association, so this becomes more amusing in this context.

His younger brother Charles Norman told the story to then-Statesman Journal music writer Andre’ Hagestedt, who now runs Oregon Coast Beach Connection. Charles himself is a world-traveled musician, having been a part of high profile bands in L.A. in the ‘80s, a band called Merchants of Venus that was huge in Europe, and he did some work with Guns ‘N Roses’ Dizzy Reed. He lived in Salem for a couple of decades and recently moved to Norway.

As Norman recalled, it was in late ‘95 or ‘96. He, his brother Larry and their sister were staying in Lincoln City. Apparently, a waterspout offshore dumped a bunch of fish somewhere in Lincoln City. It was the talk of the town that day, Norman recalls, as he encountered numerous people chattering about it all over. He did not see the fish himself, however.

Recently the more exact dates became available, so the question was posed to the North Lincoln County History Museum in Lincoln City and to the Portland office of the National Weather Service / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sadly, neither Jeff Syrop of the museum nor Tyler Kranz with NOAA could turn up any evidence. It still remains a mystery, though there’s plenty of documentation it’s happened elsewhere.

The idea of a waterspout causing an animal rain is still met with some argument in the scientific world, but not much. It’s largely agreed upon.

According to the Library of Congress, no one has ever seen frogs or fish get sucked up into the air, but scientists know it does happen – along with rocks and other smaller objects.

As a waterspout forms, its spinning column of air – or vortex – gets faster, and surrounding water is pulled into it, creating bands of light and dark. At one point, it starts shooting out water in a ring formation from the base.

With that water getting sucked into it, this can bring other objects or creatures into the mix. As the waterspout loses energy that stuff falls back to Earth. This is what scientists believe creates the frog or fish animal rain situation.

The Library of Congress quotes Professor Ernest Agee from Purdue University as saying he’s “seen small ponds literally emptied of their water by a passing tornado.”

The curious part of this whole animal rain phenomena is that it always rains either fish or frogs – not the two together. Scientist believe that’s because it will pick objects of a similar mass and weight.

According to NOAA, waterspouts happen in two categories: tornadic and fair weather waterspouts.

Tornadic waterspouts form over the water or they move from land onto the water, NOAA said. They have largely the same characteristics as a tornado, and are often accompanied by lightning, hail, etc.

Fair weather waterspouts form along the base of developing cumulus clouds and are not associated with thunderstorms. These actually start at the water and begin forming upwards, but they don’t usually move very much. If they make landfall they dissipate quickly.

It’s the tornadic waterspouts we usually get on the Oregon coast, which can be very destructive. They occur in conjunction with lots of winds and rain or hail. Just like the one in Manzanita in 2016, which cut a near-deadly swath through the town, destroying many buildings and tearing down a third of the trees along the main drag, Laneda. The same day another formed in Oceanside briefly but went nowhere.

These waterspouts are not as massive as regular tornadoes on land, with waterspouts getting interior winds up to 100 mph but tornadoes capable of reaching 300 mph.

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Photo Tyler Ryals: Manzanita gets hit by a tornado in 2016.

Waterspout, courtesy NASA


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