You know that song – “Why does it always rain on me?” A lyric that very much resonates with me, as I curse up at a leaden sky full of water that is heading just one way – down onto my head! Having been born in a very low rainfall area of the country, my tolerance for wet weather is minimal. Although I have to admit to changing my tune if we should experience a dry spell in the summer, where I nervously watch the garden gasping for water, as I eek out a modest supply to the neediest of the plants, silently wishing for a downpour!
It just goes to show that rain amounts are a fine balance: too much can result in flooding, which can be disruptive at best and devastating at worst; too little can result in a formidable draught, which can produce equal turmoil.
One place that is well used to very heavy precipitation is Mawsynram, in the north east of India, where they endure almost 12 metres (39 ft) of rain annually. Wow! That gets my complaints about a few wet days into perspective!
At the other end of the scale is the driest place on the planet – the Atacama desert in Chile, where it is thought that hardly any rain fell for 400 years (between 1570-1970)! This arid area can only hope to receive an average of a mere 1mm (0.04 inches) per year.
So where does rain come from? Well, to state the obvious, rain comes from clouds – the sun’s warmth evaporates water from the earth’s surface (rivers, lakes, oceans, water from plants) turning it into water vapour. This water vapour then travels high up into the atmosphere, where it cools, forms clouds and is then deposited back onto terra firma again as rain – this is known as the water cycle – and is a vital part of the ability for life to exist on our beautiful planet.
Of course, this water doesn’t just fall as rain – it can freeze to form tiny ice crystals, resulting in that most beloved weather of children (and those who are kids at heart) – snow. Snow lends itself to providing us with a great deal of entertainment: think of skiing, snowboarding, sledging and even of simple pleasures such as building a snowman or a snowball fight!
Another form of icy precipitation that can quite literally give us a weather headache is hail. Hail stones are formed as raindrops freeze and get pushed higher into the atmosphere, where they collect layer upon layer of ice until they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. Often these hailstones can be sizeable affairs, with the biggest one recorded being an incredible 20 cm (8 inches) and weighing almost 880g (2lbs)! You certainly wouldn’t want that falling on your head! It’s not surprising to know that hailstones of this magnitude are capable of hurting people and animals, as well as causing damage to buildings, cars, planes, crops – look out below!
Love it or hate it, rain is vital and even though it might seem (to me) like there’s a lot of rainfall, would you believe that of all the water on the earth, only 3% of it is fresh (and therefore drinkable?) – the remaining 97% is of course salty, which makes you realise just what a precious commodity water is – something to think about when you turn on the tap.
So, the next time it begins to pour down, I guess I should be singing (and not complaining) in the rain (as long as I have my umbrella with me of course!)