What is precipitation in weather?

Precipitation is water vapor or moisture that falls from the clouds in the form of rain, sleet, snow, or hail. Any liquid or frozen water that forms in the atmosphere and falls to Earth is precipitation.

Precipitation is one of the main parts of the global Water Cycle, along with evaporation and condensation. You can read more about what happens to rainfall during the Water Cycle below.

Why does precipitation occur?

When water vapor cools, it condenses and forms clouds.

As the water vapor continues to cool, it eventually reaches the dew point, which is the point when it condenses to form liquid water.

This then falls as precipitation.

What happens to precipitation during the Water Cycle?

Precipitation is one of the key processes within the Water Cycle. The water cycle is the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. It describes the path that water from various sources takes as it moves around the planet.

At the beginning of this cycle, water is heated by the sun, causing it to turn into water vapor. This water vapor then evaporates into the atmosphere and begins to cool down. It then forms clouds and condenses, creating larger and heavier water droplets. These droplets then become so serious that they fall from the sky as precipitation. Precipitation can come in a variety of different forms, including:

  • rain;
  • snow;
  • hail;
  • sleet;
  • and drizzle.

The type of precipitation that falls from the sky depends on the weather conditions the cloud is experiencing. If a shadow is colder or at a very high altitude, it is more likely to turn its water droplets into snow and ice. If the cloud is warmer and perhaps in a more tropical environment, the precipitation will likely be rain. Most rain initially forms as snow but turns into rain as it gets closer to the warmth of the Earth’s surface.

Precipitation always falls in freshwater, despite mainly coming from the Earth’s oceans. This is because salt does not evaporate.

Once this precipitation falls back to Earth, the water finds its way back into the Earth’s waterways, and the cycle begins again.

Precipitation plays an important role in this Water Cycle. Without the falling of rain and snow on the land, waterways would quickly dry out, and the cycle would not be able to repeat and therefore recycle the water in the Earth’s atmosphere.

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