precipitation

In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapour, so that the water condenses and “precipitates”. Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions because the water vapour does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapour to the air. Generally, precipitation will fall to the surface; an exception is virga which evaporates before reaching the surface. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Rain drops range in size from oblate, pancake-like shapes for larger drops, to small spheres for smaller drops. Unlike raindrops, snowflakes grow in a variety of different shapes and patterns, determined by the temperature and humidity characteristics of the air the snowflake moves through on its way to the ground. While snow and ice pellets require temperatures close to the ground to be near or below freezing, hail can occur during much warmer temperature regimes due to the process of its formation. Moisture overriding associated with weather fronts is an overall major method of precipitation production. If enough moisture and upward motion is present, precipitation falls from convective clouds such as cumulonimbus and can organize into narrow rainbands. Where relatively warm water bodies are present, for example due to water evaporation from lakes, lake-effect snowfall becomes a concern downwind of the warm lakes within the cold cyclonic flow around the backside of extratropical cyclones. Lake-effect snowfall can be locally heavy. Thundersnow is possible within a cyclone’s comma head and within lake effect precipitation bands. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation is possible where upslope flow is maximized within windward sides of the terrain at elevation. On the leeward side of mountains, desert climates can exist due to the dry air caused by compressional heating. The movement of the monsoon trough, or intertropical convergence zone, brings rainy seasons to savannah climes. Precipitation is a major component of the water cycle, and is responsible for depositing the fresh water on the planet. Approximately of water falls as precipitation each year; of it over the oceans and over land. Given the Earth’s surface area, that means the globally averaged annual precipitation is , but over land it is only . Climate classification systems such as the Köppen climate classification system use average annual rainfall to help differentiate between differing climate regimes. The urban heat island effect may lead to increased rainfall, both in amounts and intensity, downwind of cities. Global warming is also causing changes in the precipitation pattern globally. Precipitation may occur on other celestial bodies, e.g. when it gets cold, Mars has precipitation which most likely takes the form of ice needles, rather than rain or snow.