Not much happens in Norilsk, a Siberian Arctic industrial city of around 100,000 residents. That’s why, perhaps more than most would be, the locals were surprised to see it apparently rain blood down from the sky a few days back. As depicted in several videos and photographs posted to social media, it certainly looks quite apocalyptic, which has prompted the usual histrionics from certain news outlets.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Exploding” craters in Siberia, fine, there’s a geological explanation (or two) for those. Blood rain though? Surely this is an elaborate prank or genuinely (whisper it) fake news.
Well, while the images and video footage are yet to be verified, the concept of blood rain isn’t actually new, even if it is a bit of a colloquialism. No, it’s not aliens.
“Blood rain” is defined as a reddish tinted precipitation, whose coloration is caused by dust particles that have been picked up from arid areas and carried long distances by the wind. Some of it probably fell out of 2017’s Hurricane Irma, which picked up a fair bit of Saharan wind-blown sand as it made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.
As this geological dictionary notes, the phenomenon isn’t what you’d call common, but it has been seen occurring in parts of Europe before, “even as far north as Finland.” Thanks to all the snow that country gets, it probably looks more dramatic than it otherwise would – much like the situation in Siberia, we suppose.
It’s not always a crimson red color, though. Often it’s a less interesting brown-yellow color, and it can easily go unspotted. In fact, meteorologists speaking to BBC News said that it happens several times a year in the UK, and as you’d expect, the blood rain is often nowhere near as dramatic as it sounds.
Two factors generally explain where a place is likely to get blood rain, and if it’s likely to stain the landscape. First, you need to be close to a hot desert; secondly, you need it to be a brief shower, as a torrential downpour would wash the stains away.
Sometimes, though, it's caused by something far weirder.
On rare occasions, as a few villages in northwest Spain experienced a few years back, it can sometimes rain certain species of reddish algae, which also looks a lot like bloodied rain. The species in this case, Haematococcus pluvialis, turns red when stressed.
Understandably, if you’re algae lifted skywards, you’d probably not be best pleased – especially when you land in a country you aren’t endemic to.
The question this time around, of course, is why was there blood rain happening in Siberia? Could the reddish color be coming from sand sourced from Mongolia’s Gobi Desert?
Well, as spotted by LiveScience, Russian news sources are suggesting that a local Nornickel factory – one that mines and smelts nickel and palladium – is to blame. They were apparently in the middle of cleaning up a pile of iron oxide residue – better known as rust – off the factory’s floors, walls, and roof when a huge gust of wind blew much of the fine matter skyward.
Mix that with the rain, and voila, you’ve got an impending sign of the end of days.
If you’re left feeling deflated by this somewhat disappointing weather phenomenon, may I suggest that you pop on over here to find out what volcanic tornadoes are all about. Alternatively, go to Canada, where some are wondering why it’s appearing to rain poop.