La Crosse Technology Weather Station

Enjoy & Forecast Weather

Rain 101

By Janine Philips

July 2, 2014

Table of contentes:

How rain is formed
Measuring Rain
Where it rains more
When rain becomes destructive
Extreme rain events

 

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“Rain, rain, go away, come again another day,” goes a popular nursery rhyme. What is it in rain that makes kids (and adults) want it to go away? How do scientists measure rain? What damage does too much rain cause?
Rain is droplets of water that have been condensed from water vapor and have fallen down to earth. It is an important part of the water cycle, as it returns the evaporated water from the atmosphere to the earth. It keeps vegetation watered and replenishes freshwater supply.
Rain brings joy to farmers because crops thrive when drenched in rain. But for city folks and anyone who’s traveling, it brings bad mood because it gives people unwelcome showers and makes their clothes messy. In worse cases, rain causes fatalities and damage to property.

How rain is formed
Water on the surface of the earth evaporates, turning it into water vapor. The warm air carrying the water vapor rises to the atmosphere, where the warm air is cooled and the water vapor condenses into water droplets. The rising warm air keeps the water droplets from falling to the ground. More water vapor condenses into water, making the water droplets grow bigger. The droplets accumulate to form the clouds that we see in the sky. When the water droplets become too heavy for the rising air to hold, they finally fall to the ground as rain, pulled downward by gravity. [1] [2] [3]

Measuring Rain
Climatologists measure rain by using rain gauges. Standard rain gauges and tipping bucket rain gauges measure rain by inches, while weighing-type rain gauges measure rain by its weight. Weather radars are also used to measure amounts of rainfall and the rain rate. [4]
Measuring rain is important because it reveals fluctuations in weather over time and annual changes in climate. Areas with less rain have drier climates, while areas with more rain have wetter climates. Changes in annual rainfall say a lot about changes in climate, whether in a certain area or around the world.
The amount of rain affects the kind, quality and quantity of vegetation growing over an area. Wetter areas tend to have more lush vegetation than dry areas. Those same areas also tend to be more humid. During storms and hurricanes, rain is also measured because a sheer amount of rain can do so much damage to affected areas.

Where it rains more
Areas located on the tropical regions experience more rain. Tropical regions are located near the equator, which is warmer, so more water is being evaporated and turned into rain.
In the United States, rains happen more often in the east and southeast parts of the country, such as Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana and some parts of Texas. [5]

When rain becomes destructive
Floods happen when the rains dump too much water than the soil can absorb, and when the rain falls faster than it can be washed away.
Rains raise the water levels of rivers, sometimes up to the point of overflowing. Areas beside the river are very vulnerable to river flooding. Rains can increase the flow of rivers from gentle to monstrous, powerful enough to destroy bridges and wipe out entire villages.
Thunderstorms bring storm clouds that dump heavy rains. Remember that raindrops fall when they are too heavy for the rising warm air to hold. Storms have winds that are so strong that they can hold back water droplets that were otherwise heavy enough to fall down. By the time the strong gusts of warm wind cannot hold back the droplets any longer, the droplets are already way bigger than the average rain droplets. This makes the rain heavier and flooding more severe.

Hurricanes are characterized by their heavy rains and strong winds. The rains brought by hurricanes are in fact more destructive and life-threatening than their trademark fearsome winds. They cause flooding inland by dumping massive amounts of water in a short period of time. As if that was not enough, hurricanes bring the rainfalls that would increase the water levels of rivers to overflowing. This causes the much dreaded flooding that destroys property and claims lives. [6]

Extreme rain events
Extreme rains happen because of the elevating global surface temperatures. Higher global surface temperatures mean more water is being evaporated and being condensed into water, thus creating more rainwater falling in torrents.
Hurricanes and storms bring heavy rain. But extreme rains happen even without hurricanes. During droughts, much water is evaporated, to be precipitated months or years later.

In the spring of 2007, rain fell on drought-wrecked Texas. The people were initially happy; however, they got way too much rain than they wished for. The rain did not stop falling for 45 days straight, filling dry lakes and caused widespread flooding in Texas. [7]

Philadelphia experienced the heaviest rain in a day on July 28, 2013. The rain was measured to be 8.02 inches, beating previous record of 3.28 inches for one day in June 1969. [8]

A storm system brought 10 to 15 inches of rain to Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama on April 30, 2014. The amount of rain was worth more than two months for both locations. The flood caused widespread road damage in Pensacola. [9] [10]

So next time you find yourself running in the rain, remember that rains are Mother Nature’s way of watering the earth from the skies above. In the meantime, make sure that you have your trusty umbrella handy, go indoors, and have some warm soup. And don’t forget to take your Vitamin C!

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References:
[1] Toothman, Jessika.  "How Clouds Work"  05 May 2008.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/dictionary/meteorological-terms/cloud.htm>  24 June 2014.
[2] Rain & Floods. WeatherWizKids.com <http://www.weatherwizkids.com/weather-rain.htm>  25 June 2014
[3] Britt, Robert Roy. “Weather 101: All About Wind and Rain” 13 October 2005. Livescience.com. <http://www.livescience.com/407-weather-101-wind-rain.html> 25 June 2014
[4] "Rain Gauge"  15 September 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/meteorological-instruments/rain-gauge-info.htm>  24 June 2014.
[5] Thompson, Andrea. “Study Reveals Top 10 Wettest US Cities” 18 May 2007. LiveScience.com. < http://www.livescience.com/1558-study-reveals-top-10-wettest-cities.html> 26 June 2014.
[6] "Typhoon"  16 September 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/storms/typhoon-info.htm>  24 June 2014
[7] Silverman, Jacob.  "How could it rain for 45 straight days?"  16 July 2007.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/storms/texas-rain.htm>  25 June 2014.
[8] Pydynowski, Kristina. “Philadelphia Shatters Record for Heaviest Rain in a Day” 29 July 2013. AccuWeather.com. < http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/historical-rain-floods-the-phi/15878114> 25 June 2014.
[9] Lyons, Steve. “Extreme Rainfall and Flooding in Texas” 28 June 2007. The Weather Channel.       < http://www.weather.com/blog/weather/8_12893.html> 26 June 2014.
[10] Pearson, Michael and Alsup, Dave. “Rains too much even for weather-toughened Gulf Coast” 30 April 2014. CNN. < http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/30/us/severe-weather/> 26 June 2014.