Brood X cicadas are so abundant, they're showing up on weather radar

One entomologist didn't believe it at first, but there are that many of the insects.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
2 min read
adult cicada
Gene Kritsky/Mount St. Joseph University

There's no need to tell people who live in the eastern US the Brood X cicadas have arrived. The plentiful bugs are so loud some people are mistaking their buzzy mating noises for car alarms. But exactly how many cicadas are out there? So many the insects are being picked up by weather radar .

"This is not rain, not ground clutter," tweeted NBC meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts on Monday, sharing a radar image of a big green blob sitting right over the area of Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland. "The Hydrometeor Classification algorithm identifies this as biological in nature, so likely cicadas being picked up by the radar beam."

Ricketts' tweet sparked some witty responses, including one citing the scene from Aliens when the Colonial Marines set out on their tragic bug hunt, and another parodying Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, writing, "Cloudy With A Chance Of, checks notes, oh hell no."

The National Weather Service official Twitter account for the Baltimore-Washington area also tweeted about the cicadas making it onto radar.

"You may have noticed a lot of fuzziness (low reflectivity values) on our radar recently," a Saturday tweet read. "The Hydrometeor Classification algorithm shows much of it to be biological in nature. Our guess? It's probably the cicadas."

The Washington Post reached out to an entomologist at the University of Maryland who did not at first believe the radar images showed cicadas. 

"Cicadas are not strong long-distance fliers, they do not migrate, and their biology is tethered to the trees," Daniel Gruner told the Post. But when told radar can in fact detect insects in the tops of trees, the entomologist rethought things.

"If the radar can pick up the returns essentially at canopy level," he told the paper, "then that changes the whole equation."

Brood X cicada emergence in photos: How it looks as trillions of bugs appear

See all photos