Siberia: It's Russia's largest and arguably weirdest geographic region. It is a place where bricks of gold drop from the sky and severed human hands sprout out of the snow like turnips. And sometimes, it also seems to rain blood there.
That's what some locals thought on Tuesday (July 3) when a crimson-colored downpour spilled over a parking lot in the industrial town of Norilsk. As you can see for yourself in the handful of videos posted to social media, the plaguey rain stained cars red, spread blood-colored puddles over the asphalt and cultivated the general vibe of a town turned into "a horror movie," as one witness reportedly described on social media. [The Weirdest Things That Fell from the Sky]
Some Siberian locals saw the freak red rain as a sign of the apocalypse, tabloid site Express.co.uk reported. Other British outlets took a more patriotic view of the rain, suggesting the weather was merely showing solidarity with the scarlet-clad athletes of England's Three Lions soccer team following their triumphant win the same afternoon in the World Cup, taking place in Russia.
But the real explanation — at least the one provided by the local Nornickelmetallurgical plant that took responsibility for the ominous downpour — is far more pedestrian.
According to Russian news sources, Nornickel factory officials were in the midst of scraping huge amounts of iron oxide residue (aka, rust) off the factory's floor and roof to improve environmental health and safety. Unfortunately, someone forgot to put a lid on the cache of rusty, dusty detritus, and "a gust of wind blew it over the parking lot while the rain caused it to fall," Nornickel representatives said in a statement. The rain mixed with the dust, and thus a storm of "blood" filled the factory parking lot.
While human-made plagues like this one seem rare, red rain — or "blood rain" — is more common than you might think. According to scientists at the NASA Earth Observatory, written accounts of the ominous weather phenomenon date back at least to 191 B.C. Back then, a crimson-colored rain caused so much hysteria in the Roman Senate that bewildered priests decided to "sacrifice full-grown victims to whatever gods it seemed proper."
Even today, red rains fall naturally every few years (so please don't go crazy with the human sacrifices). According to NASA, most red rain incidents originate with colorful dust storms in the Sahara Desert, which can be carried over Europe and the Mediterranean by strong winds. Occasionally, these dust whorls blow underneath storm clouds, mix with falling rain and reach the ground with a faint rusty hue.
Different dust particles result in different colors in rain, according to NASA, and bloody red rains occur only when there's a lot of iron oxide floating amidst the airborne dust. Iron oxide occurs naturally anywhere that iron and oxygen meet, but it's less common to see huge quantities of it introduced into the air at one time, as happened in this week's incident in Russia. If Siberia's blood rain is indeed an omen, it probably portends only a lot of annoyed employees scrambling to get to the same car wash on their way home.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.