Friday, December 16, 2011

Apple vortex

I've blogged about flying fish and imprisoned pears, but never flying fruit....In the same batch of weird news that inspired yesterday's post was the news that a bunch of apples fell from the sky in Coventry, England. On Monday night just after rush-hour, dozens of appes rained down over the junction of Keresley and Kelmscote Roads (1st and 2nd images). A driver on the road with her husband at about 6:45pm described, "The apples fell out of the sky as if out of nowhere. They were small and green and hit the bonnet hard. There were other cars on the road at the time too and everyone had to stop their cars suddenly. It wouldn't surprise me if some cars were damaged. I know the area well and there are no apple trees around." As with fish falls, there were attempts to ascribe the occurrence to human misbehavior or accident. Resident Dave Meakins* (3rd image) said he thought at first that the apples had been thrown as a prank by children: "I honestly don't know where the apples could have come from. I assumed kids must have thrown them because we do get the occasional egg and apple thrown but there's way too much for that. I would love to know where they came from." Others thought that the apples had fallen from a passing plane. But the consensus was that the strange event was the result of weather, and that the fruit had been scooped up by a tornado, transported in turbulent air, and dropped in the neighborhood. That is the same explanation given since antiquity for falls of fish, frogs, and other creatures. Jim Dale, senior meteorologist with the British Weather Services, concludes, "The weather we have at the moment is very volatile and we probably have more to come. Essentially these events are caused when a vortex of air, kind of like a mini tornado, lifts things off the ground rising up into the atmosphere until the air around it causes them to fall to earth again. Returning polar maritime air is such an unstable condition and it basically means air returning from the polar regions which is very unstable. We've all heard of the fish and frogs falling from the sky and apples is certainly unusual because they have some weight to them but it is not out of the realms of possibility." But Curtis Wood, a meteorologist from the University of Reading, points out that British tornadoes tend not to be very strong, so the apples must have been picked up from a crate or orchard within a few hundred meters of the event. BBC News consulted Paul Sieveking, co-editor of my favorite magazine Fortean Times, who remembers another fruit fall in which 300 apples landed in a back garden in Accrington, Lancashire, in Nov. 1984. "The couple woke up to a thunderous noise and thought it was hail. The apples kept on falling for an hour, so it could not have been a plane." Sieveking says that he - like his readers, and presumably mine - is tolerant of uncertainty and that human beings love a good puzzle.

*Another report identifies him as 63-year-old Brian Meakins.

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