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Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 16:10 UK

By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Tree Frog
His European cousins have been known to fall from the sky as rain

Tiny particles of volcanic rock, glass and sand inside a huge ash cloud, are causing chaos in the skies over Europe.

The UK's Air Traffic Control Service has put restrictions on flights, with none being allowed in or out of UK airspace until the ash has cleared.

Dependent on wind direction, the cloud has reached as far as Surrey.

But although very disruptive, it's not the first time Mother Nature has unleashed something strange into the Surrey skies.

In July 1968, residents across Southern England woke up to find everything covered in red dust.

Sahara desert sand dunes
Sand from the Sahara appeared on Surrey streets in 1968

But far from being an alien attack from the red planet Mars, the dust turned out to be Sahara sand from Africa.

The particles had blown over 1,000 miles inside a massive high pressure system from the Sahara desert, falling as red rain overnight, drying to dust by morning!

In March 1998, a distressed lady from Croydon is reported to have rung the Met Office to tell them she had found hundreds of dead frogs in, and surrounding her garden.

A local man walking his dog, backed up her unusual story. He too, had spotted the tiny dead amphibians in the same area.

With no ponds or rivers locally, the event was attributed to a water spout, which is literally a small wet tornado!

This liquid whirlwind sucks up water from lakes or the sea, together with any small unfortunate creatures near the surface

When the tornado touches land it begins to lose energy and its contents are thrown to the ground. In this case, tiny frogs.

But the Croydon event was not the first time animals have rained from the skies in this fashion.

Frogs, fish and larger animals have all been reported as falling from the clouds over the years, worldwide.

The strong pong

On 18 April 2008, the Daily Mail reported that a strong 'farmyard' odour was sweeping across the South, reaching parts of Surrey, Suffolk and Berkshire.

The Met Office were at a loss to explain, as were the emergency services who fielded dozens of calls from local residents concerned about the strong pong.

Labelled 'Der Stink' by the paper, it was suggested that the overpowering 'organic' aroma had been carried on easterly winds from Europe, and had originated from agricultural waste.

This seemed the most likely explanation as it happened to be 'muck spreading' season for local farmers, in several European countries at the time.

Things falling from, and wafting around in the Surrey skies, is not a new phenomenon.

Fire in the sky

According to Victorian journal Symon's Monthly Meteorological Magazine, on 18 October 1867, residents of Thames Ditton were surprised to find fire falling from the evening sky.

The flame 'shower' was reported to have lasted for about ten minutes and afterwards traces of sulphur were found in puddles and water butts.

Unlikely though this sounds, there is a faint possibility it could be true.

There is a phenomenon called St Elmo's Fire, caused by a discharge of static electricity, which creates a luminous 'flame-like' effect.

Bright blue, or violet in colour, it can appear on objects and the ground, accompanied often with a hissing or crackling sound.

The Eyjafjallajoekull eruption
Ash from the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption is causing chaos in the sky

In fact, it was this very phenomena that British Airways pilot Captain Eric Moody thought was lighting up the windscreen of his Boeing 747, as it flew over the Indian Ocean on its way to Australia.

As it turned out, the effect was actually caused by volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia, sandblasting the outside of his plane!

Not content with giving him a frosted windscreen, the ash went on to block all four engines, which stopped dead at 11,000 metres (36,000 ft).

Luckily, Captain Moody and his co-pilots managed to get them re-started and landed the plane safely in Jakarta, with 263 very relieved passengers and crew on-board.

But his experience of what happens when Mother Nature decides to flex her muscles, goes a long way to explain why the only thing in the Surrey air tonight, is volcanic ash.

And not aeroplanes.

Airport and flight information links
15 Apr 10 |  Surrey
How can it rain fish?
20 Aug 04 |  Magazine



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