The 1849 Balvullich Ice Fall |

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The 1849 Balvullich Ice Fall

A mass of solid ice weighing nearly a ton fell on a Scottish farm on the estate at Ord during a thunderstorm on July 30, 1849. Theories abound as to its origin, some more fanciful than others. New analysis suggests that the ice originated locally and did not fall from the sky, as has long been thought.

Large chunks of ice seem to have been falling from the sky for centuries. The star of these reports is a solid mass of ice weighing nearly a ton that fell during a thunderstorm on July 30, 1849, near Balvullich (or Balavulich), a farm about ten miles west of Inverness, Scotland. The Guinness Book of World Records (2016) called it the “Largest Piece of Fallen Ice” and suggested that it was composed of hailstones fused together by lightning.

The initial newspaper report of the fall was edited and reprinted widely in British newspapers. It even found its way into Scientific American, where, decades later, it was noticed by Charles Fort, the archivist of the unexplained. Fort (1972, 217) called it “one of our best expressions of external origins” and hinted that it had dropped from some hidden land in the sky. Another eccentric theorist couldn’t decide whether it had fallen from an alien spacecraft or if it had been blasted into orbit when the lost continent of Mu was destroyed by an ancient nuclear war (Jessup 2003). At the other end of the spectrum, Ar thur C. Clarke (1980) noted that the thunderous booms that heralded the fall “were like the sonic booms of our re-entering spacecraft” and wondered if it might have been a piece of a comet.

These days, when lumps of ice break car windshields or punch holes though the roofs of houses, some experts think of oversized hail (Martinez-Frias et al. 2005) while others suspect aircraft toilet leaks or wing icing (Davidson 2006). The ice fall at Balvullich is particularly intriguing because there were no modern aircraft in 1849 (Clarke 1980).

Contemporary reports of the event, including weather reports, which are available from, modern science and Ordnance Survey maps can tell us much about this singular event.

Figure 1. Balvullich. Copyright 2016 Getmapping.plc. Photo by Digital Globe, May 2009.

The First Report

A witness to the ice fall wrote to his local newspaper. In those days correspondents’ names were not revealed; let’s call him John. His letter reads, in part:

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