We are now into “shark week” on the Discovery Channel and it wasn’t too long ago that the disaster film “Sharknado” aired on the Syfy channel. “Sharknado” is a disaster film about a freak hurricane that hits Los Angeles and causes sharks to be scooped up by waterspouts and deposits them in the city. It first aired on July 11th and quickly became a social media phenomenon. The film obviously doesn’t hold water in many weather-related areas, but there is some interesting, and perhaps somewhat surprising, information on the general subject matter.
To begin with, the premise of the movie is that a huge and powerful hurricane hits Los Angeles (Category 3 storm named David in the movie). While this has never happened in recorded history in the city of Los Angeles, it is not true to say that southern California has never been hit by a hurricane. In fact, way back in October of 1858, a Category 1 hurricane brought 80 mph winds to San Diego. [For a detailed paper on this storm go to this NOAA web site: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/Landsea/chenowethlandsea.pdf]. In more recent times, a 1939 tropical storm brought 52 mph winds to the coast south of Los Angeles, and caused $2 million in property damage--mostly to shipping, shore structures, power and communication lines, and crops. Forty-five lives were lost at sea during the storm. Hurricane Linda of 1997, which occurred during a strong El Niño event that significantly warmed the ocean waters along the Mexican Pacific coast, was forecast by the National Hurricane Center for a couple of advisories to make landfall near San Diego as a minimal hurricane or strong tropical storm. Category 5 Linda was the strongest hurricane ever observed in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, but weakened over cold water and turned out to sea without affecting Southern California. A Category 3 or stronger storm affecting Southern California, as depicted in "Sharknado", is pretty much impossible in the current climate, though. The California Current that flows southwards along the coast of California and Baja Mexico features waters temperatures that are too cold to support a major hurricane.
A second theme of the movie is that waterspouts swept up sharks and then deposited them in the city of Los Angeles. In fact, there have been numerous reports of waterspouts or tornadoes picking up fish out of the sea or out of lakes and creating a "rain of fish." For example, hundreds of perch bombarded residents of the small Australian outback town of Lajamanu in 2010. In the U.S., thousands of small fish, frogs and crayfish fell from the sky during a rainstorm at Magnolia Terminal near Thomasville, Alabama, on the morning of June 28, 1957. Many of the fish were alive and were placed in ponds and swimming pools. An EF2 tornado fifteen miles to the south spawned by the outer bands of Hurricane Audrey was likely responsible for getting the creatures airborne. William Corliss' intriguing book, "Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena", has an entire chapter devoted to unusual creatures and objects that have fallen from the sky. He relates that in 1946, a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History named E. W. Gudger documented 78 reliable reports of fish falls from all over the world. The largest fish was a large-mouthed bass 9 1/4 inches long, and the heaviest was a six pound fish that fell in India. There were no reports, however, of large, 2000-pound great white sharks, as depicted by "Sharknado".
By the way, Syfy was so pleased with the reaction to its original TV movie and how Twitter users devoured it, the network confirmed recently that there will be a "Sharknado 2." This time the fictional flying sharks will be attacking the Big Apple in a film set to premiere in 2014.