Saturday, 10 January 2015

EVERYDAY STRANGE - Rain of Rice in Burma

[Image Source]
THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS
In the January 10, 1952 edition of the London Daily Telegraph it was reported that a rain of rice fell on Mandalay, Burma. People reportedly gathered handfuls in the streets. Tracking down information on this event has led to a brick wall, and what you see above is all I have regarding this event. The Daily Telegraph website does not have that particular edition of their newspaper archived on the web, and that's where the trail goes cold for an armchair detective.

THE INVESTIGATION
Anomalous precipitation is nothing new. Indeed when taken in total, the sheer number of reports of strange rains and bizarre or unexpected objects falling from the sky, both organic and inorganic, shows that the phenomenon may be strange, but is not all that unusual. Stones, balls, seeds, nuts, wheat, fish, frogs, insects, red rain, curiously large ice blocks, even a red hot chain have all been reported to fall from the sky, sometimes on numerous occasions. Charles Fort reported the phenomenon seemingly endlessly and reports go back at least three hundred years and continue in a pretty much unbroken chain up to the present day. There isn't a whole blog post worth of information and occurrences, there is a whole blog's worth, updated regularly.

Some of the strange falls are well-documented and have been at least hypothetically explained. The explanations begin with waterspouts. In the not-entirely-accurate-but-simplest-possible definition a waterspout is like a mini-water tornado, though much weaker. A waterspout is a columnar vortex which more or less connects a body of water to the cloud above it.

Waterspout [image source]
Knowing this, it's easy to understand that a waterspout might have generated over a rice paddy and sucked up some rice, then rained it back down over the city. Again, the above information doesn't give much of a clue as to whereabouts the rice actually fell, it just gives the name of the city, Mandalay. Mandalay is no small place, in 1952 it wasn't the bustling metropolis it is today, but the population exceeded 150,000 and it covers an area of 63 square miles (163 km sq), putting Vancouver (44 sq mi.) to shame. For the sake of argument, let's put the rice fall square into the middle of the city.

According to the FAO, Mandalay is the second largest city and eighth largest producer of rice in Myanmar (formerly Burma). No special thing perhaps, but we see that rice is produced in the area, therefore it doesn't take a huge leap to see that a columnar vortex or water could have sucked rice out of a paddy onto any part of the metropolitan area surrounding it.

But, if we're willing to accept a waterspout as a point of origin, what happened to the rice in mid-air? Did it simply arc like some kind of vacuum rainbow, rise an fall without any resistance whatsoever? Every time I read about a strange fall I've got to ask myself: how can something heavier than air, that doesn't collect naturally in clouds, fall from the sky? How does the heavier than air object hang in the air without falling immediately?

CONLUSIONS
Large hailstones [image source]
The answer is almost certainly convection layers. Basically, the heavier than air object rides the wind. Again, if we accept waterspouts as our means of conveyance for the rice, then it's easy to figure out what happened next. The rice began acting like hail. Indeed, each grain of rice would have been lighter than a hailstone, the phenomenon of "golfball-sized" hailstones is widely known and discussed. When hail forms it wants to fail as it grows heavier, when it doesn't, particles of super-cooled air collect on the hail until the become the size of golfballs or larger when the 110mph winds of the storm can no longer keep them aloft. The reason the winds don't blow the whole accumulation away is where the layering comes into effect as whatever object, be it hail or rice grain is 'squished' back down by warmer winds from above.

As the cloud lumbers on its journey through the sky, the process continues until it can no longer be sustained and a thing like a rain of rice becomes possible.

But, there is no way of knowing if this is even a likely explanation because the details are nonexistent.

What's frustrated about having so little information is that the truth, like the devil, is often in the details. Two simple questions are left unanswered: were the grains of rice still in their husks? and were they coated in ice? These may be the most essential missing details as to figuring out what exactly happened. If they were still in their husks, then it becomes easier to accept a waterspout explanation and if they were coated in ice, then they were mostly likely trapped in a convection layer until they fell.

If the grains were already de-husked, then it's possible that somebody's open store of rice somehow ended up in the sky and that's a whole other bizarre mystery to think on.

Ultimately, a waterspout explanation may not satisfy, even though it's a good, and frankly easy one, because waterspouts usually occur over larger bodies of deep water, not rice paddies. The explanation  can be said to be nearly as extraordinary as the event itself, although waterspouts have been witnessed over ponds and other small bodies of water.

Strange falls happen all the time. You may be witness to one some strange day, but your chances aren't likely. You'd be lucky to witness such an event, and even luckier to be able to explain it satisfactorily.

SOURCES:
The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena [2nd Edition], pg. 60
FAO Corporate Document Repository (see table Producing Zones and Cropping Seasons)

And if you'd like to learn more about waterspouts and atmospheric convection, wikipedia is a good place to start for general knowledge. They usually have loads of relevant links to dig further.
Waterspouts
Atmospheric Convection

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