FOG HAS PLAYED a starring role in countless horror and science fiction films. It provides a creepy atmosphere or a thick vaporous curtain out of which can appear a stalking vampire, a stumble of zombies, a clawing monster or a troupe of aliens. The fog masks the unknown.
It can also kill.
Untold numbers of shipwrecks and car accidents have been attributed to the reduced visibility that fogs create. Ships rely on lighthouses and other beacons to help them through. And in San Francisco, drivers have The Emergency Fog Alert System, an array of webcams that keep vigil for the arrival of fog from the bay. A whole slew of car accidents and numerous deaths were blamed on fog near Calhoun, Tennessee from the early 1970s to the 1990s. In this case the fog was intensified by the polluting output of a local paper plant.
There have also been numerous cases in which fog has killed people directly. In virtually every case, these killer fogs have been the carriers of industrial atmospheric pollution:
- Sixty Belgians were killed in 1930 when fog conditions concentrated pollutants in the Meuse Valley for six days.
- Nearly half the population of Donora and Webster, Pennsylvania were sickened in late October, 1948 by a fog that held industrial pollution in the small towns. So dense was the fog that one could not see clearly across a city street. The death toll: 20 lives.
- Thousands of Londoners were killed in December, 1952 when a toxic fog descended on the English capital. The fog, carrying a deadly mixture of dense coal smoke, literally poisoned the populace and is still considered one of the deadliest environmental incidents on record. The black fog was so thick that some reported they could not even see their feet as they walked the London streets. The lethal fog lasted from December 5 to the 9th, and in the end as many as 12,000 were dead from its effects.
- On May 3, 1989, the residents of Culham in Oxfordshire, England were plagued by nosebleeds and sore throats due to a thick fog that clouded the village. (Source: The World's Most Incredible Stories, 1992, Barnes & Noble Books.)
- In mid-October, 2005, the city of Lagos, Nigeria was enveloped in a mysterious fog that caused serious illness. After people began complaining of severe stomach pains and eye irritation, the governor of the region closed all the city schools as a precaution. People were driven out of their places of work because of the bad odor, and visibility in some places was reduced to 100 meters. Laboratory tests of the fog vapor showed that it contained high levels of sulphuric acid. A broken petroleum pipe might have been the cause.
Occasionally, fog kills even without pollutants. A fog bank killed more than 5,000 songbirds over the Bay of Fundy, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada in June, 2004. The birds apparently died of hypothermia when they flew into the cold fog. Lobster fisherman said the birds were just dropping from the sky, some landing dead on their boats.
That's normal fog and pollution. But there are kinds of fog that form in the realm of the paranormal - and the effects can be even stranger.
Next page: Fog of the Paranormal Kind