Precipitation in a very simple sense can be understood as the process by which all the water reaches the Earth from the atmosphere. Meteorologically, It may be defined as the product resulting from the condensation of water vapour and falls on the Earth under the action of gravity from the clouds. The main forms of precipitation are rain, snow, hail, drizzle, sleet, ice pellets, hail and graupel.
Rain and snow are the major forms of precipitation that contribute to the water resources particularly the freshwater resources of the Earth. According to the statistical reports, approximately 505,000 km³ of water falls as precipitation every year. Precipitation is an important part of the hydrological cycle of the Earth thereby is necessary for maintaining the balance in the Earth.
Importance of Precipitation
1. It is an essential part of the water cycle of the Earth. Thus, it is necessary for maintaining the natural balance.
2. It is a major source of freshwater on Earth.
3. Precipitation such as rainfall and its distribution forms a leading feature of the climate.
4. It is necessary for regulating the global energy flow i.e. the movement of heat.
Causes of Precipitation
1. Frontal Activity
Frontal precipitation occurs as a consequence of slow ascent of air in synoptic systems (on the order of cm/s), such as over surface cold fronts, and over and ahead of warm fronts. Similar ascent is seen around tropical cyclones outside of the eyewall and in comma-head precipitation patterns around mid-latitude cyclones. It is also called Stratiform or dynamic precipitation.
Convection is one of the major sources of precipitation. It is the most common cause of precipitation in tropical areas. Convectional clouds fall as showers with rapidly changing intensity. Convective precipitation falls over a certain area for a relatively short time, as convective clouds have limited horizontal extent. It is also called showery precipitation
3. Orographic Action
Orographic precipitation occurs on the windward (upwind) side of mountains and is caused by the rising air motion of a large-scale flow of moist air across the mountain ridge, resulting in adiabatic cooling and condensation.
Occurrence of Precipitation
When sufficient moisture is present in the atmosphere; precipitation of various forms occurs. For such precipitation to occur, sufficient particles and nuclei such as salt particles, by-products of combustion etc must be present in the atmosphere along with the moisture.
Also, the weather conditions must be suitable for the condensation of the moisture or water vapour to occur. As these water vapours undergo condensation under favourable weather conditions; the nuclei and particles from precipitation in the form of the droplets of water. Then, the turbulence of the wind aids in the suspension of the water particles. These water particles come together and thus form larger droplets of water with sizes greater than 0.1 mm in diameter. These droplets are capable of falling under the effect of gravity.
Forms of Precipitation
The various forms of precipitation are as follows:
Rain is the form of precipitation that occurs in the form of water drops. These water drops are of a size larger than 0.5mm. The maximum size of the raindrop is approximately 6mm. In case, the droplets are larger than 6mm, they break down into smaller droplets and fall on the Earth. Rainfall is an essential form of precipitation that contributes significantly to the water resources of the earth as well as an important constituent of the ecological cycle. The magnitude of rainfall even indicates the high temporal and spatial variation. Such variations are responsible for the occurrence of various extreme hydrological conditions such as floods, famines and droughts.
|Type of Rainfall||Intensity (mm/h)|
|Light||Trace to 2.5|
|Moderate||2.5 – 7.5|
Snow is the form of precipitation that consists of crystals of ice in a flaky form. It usually has an average density of 0.1gm/cc. Snow is also a chief contributor to the water resources of the Earth.
It is the form of precipitation that is similar to rain. However, the drizzle consists of water droplets with a size of less than 0.5mm. The intensity of drizzle is mostly greater than 1mm/hr.
Sleet is the form of precipitation that exists in the form of frozen droplets of rain. The freezing of the droplets mostly occur when the droplets pass through air at freezing temperatures.
Glaze is also commonly referred to as the freezing rain. It is the form of precipitation that is formed when the rain or drizzle comes in contact with the cold ground usually at 0 degree Celsius.
Hail is the form of precipitation that exists in the form of lumps or pellets with size greater than 8mm.
Types of Precipitation
As mentioned earlier, precipitation occurs when the water vapour or the moist air present in the atmosphere undergoes condensation. Condensation takes place when such a mass of water vapour or the moist air cools down and saturates with the same amount of moisture. Such process of cooling of the moist air mass occurs when the mass of the moist air moves significantly upwards to higher altitudes. The mass of the moist air can be lifted to higher altitudes commonly by three methods. Based on these methods of the lifting of the moist air, the precipitation can be classified into the following three types:
1. Cyclonic Precipitation
The cyclonic precipitation generally refers to the precipitation that occurs by the cyclonic movement or action of the moist mass of air. A cyclone is a phenomenon that occurs in the atmosphere consisting of low pressure and circular wind motion. Thus, the cyclonic precipitation is the type of precipitation that occurs due to such cyclonic action by the aid of the pressure difference. The cyclonic precipitation can be classified into the following:
It is the hot moist air mass boundary that occurs due to the expansion of air near the frontal surface.
It is a cold air mass boundary that occurs due to the movement of the cold mass of moist air that results in the precipitation.
2. Convective Precipitation
The convective precipitation is the type of precipitation that results from the convective movement of the air. In actual, the air present above the surface of land gets heated and this warmer air being lighter moves up, cools down and thus precipitates. The convective precipitation mostly occurs in varying intensities and is shower. The areal extent of such precipitation is relatively smaller and usually is in the range less than 10km in diameter.
3. Orographic Precipitation
Orographic precipitation is the type of precipitation that occurs by the orographic action i.e. the movement of moist mass of air in the windward side of the mountain.
In other words, moving air masses have chances to strike barriers like mountains. Once they strike, they rise which causes condensation and precipitation. The precipitation is greater in the windward side of the barrier compared to the leeward side of the barrier.
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