Cicadas light up weather radar as U.S. grapples with swarms

·3 min read

The massive invasion of Brood X cicadas now has the insects swarming large areas of the East and Midwest.

Coming up from the ground once every 17 years, their numbers are so large in the Baltimore-Washington area they're even showing up on National Weather Service radar.

You may have noticed a lot of fuzziness (low reflectivity values) on our radar recently. The Hydrometeor Classification algorithm shows much of it to be Biological in nature. Our guess? It's probably the #cicadas. pic.twitter.com/i990mEBJnl

— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) June 5, 2021

"We were getting over 2,000 a day," Maryland mom Jessica Helms told CBS News' Ben Tracy after cicadas took over her backyard.

6-year-old Olivia began counting the cicadas in her backyard but quickly ran out of fingers — and buckets to collect their shells. / Credit: CBS News
6-year-old Olivia began counting the cicadas in her backyard but quickly ran out of fingers — and buckets to collect their shells. / Credit: CBS News

Her 6-year-old, Olivia, began counting them at first but quickly ran out of fingers — and buckets to collect their shells.

"Then we had to watch where we were stepping!" Olivia said.

While the many shells covering the ground and hanging from trees may terrify adults, Olivia is now invested in these insects, giving the cicadas names and playing with them alongside her toys.

"We are surrounded by not just the cicadas but their sound from every direction," U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Sammy Ramsey said.

Ramsey, who is also known as Dr. Bugs, believes cicada season is "exciting."

"Pretty much all the cicadas that exist are out of the ground and they are in the treetops," he said. "This is the symphony section of the experience."

Only the male bugs make cicada's trademark loud noise — clocking in at 73 decibels, a level that rivals a garbage disposal or vacuum cleaner.

The male cicadas are trying to attract females.

"They get the chance to sit around and say 'I don't like him, I don't like him, I don't like him. That one — I like him," Ramsey said.

For the next four weeks, the cicadas will fulfill their 17-year mission of mating in the trees to produce the next generation. But they have to avoid getting eaten by a bird before they do it.

Ramsey is not the only one enjoying the experience — cicadas are inspiring art, food, fashion and music.

A brewery in Virginia created a cicada beer and named it Brewd-X.  / Credit: CBS News
A brewery in Virginia created a cicada beer and named it Brewd-X. / Credit: CBS News

A brewery in Virginia created a cicada beer and named it Brewd-X.

Cicada tacos are on the menu at a Leesburg, Virginia restaurant, which sells about 30 orders of them every day.

"About 50% of those that come in order a second round of tacos," Chef Tobias Padovano said.

Cicada tacos are on the menu at a Leesburg, Virginia restaurant, which sells about 30 orders of them every day. / Credit: CBS News
Cicada tacos are on the menu at a Leesburg, Virginia restaurant, which sells about 30 orders of them every day. / Credit: CBS News

Unfortunately, however, after waiting nearly two decades, the cicadas' moment is fleeting.

"They are here for a good time, not a long time," Ramsey said.

Both the males and females will die off after mating, according to Ramsey. The eggs the females lay in the trees will fall too the ground and the cycle will begin again.

Ramsey noted the massive time jump before the next time the U.S. sees the cicadas in 2038.

"I cannot describe to you the sense of dread that is already in my heart knowing that I am not going to be able to experience this again until I am in my forties," he said.

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