Weird Wet Weather

There’s more to rain than falling water. Here are the weirdest wet weather facts you didn’t know.

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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1. Virga, also called phantom rain, is precipitation that evaporates before it hits the ground. It often appears as wispy, gray streaks radiating from clouds, and is most common in desert environments.

2. Graupel, aka soft hail, looks like Styrofoam balls and forms when super-cooled water droplets freeze on falling snowflakes. It’s distinct from hail, which is more like a solid piece of ice.

3. Double rainbows happen when light is reflected twice in the same water droplet. The second rainbow’s colors are inverted.

4. Catatumbo lightning is a phenomenon unique to Venezuela’s Catatumbo River. There, over the river’s mouth, lightning flashes up to 280 times per hour, for 10 hours at a time, roughly 260 days a year. That’s a max of 728,000 bolts.

5. Twinned rainbows are much rarer than double rainbows. That’s when a single rainbow splits into two arcs. It can form when different-sized water drops interact with light.

6. Tear-shaped raindrops are a myth. Raindrops are actually spherical, hamburger-shaped, or somewhere in the middle, depending on their size.

7. To spot a triple or quadruple rainbow, you have to look toward the sun rather than away from it.

8. Petrichor is that fresh, earthy smell you notice right after it rains. It’s airborne organic material.

9. Rain shadows are dry areas caused by mountain ranges that block precipitation. Think: California’s Death Valley, which sees roughly 2.4 inches per year.

10. Freezing rain isn’t sleet. Freezing rain and sleet both start as snow, then melt and refreeze. Sleet freezes into ice pellets, while freezing rain turns to ice when it hits the ground (or your tent).

11. The wettest place in the world is Mawsynram, India. The tiny village holds a Guinness record with 467 inches. It rains so consistently there that locals have shaped rubber tree roots into living bridges to cross waterways.

12. Dust creates colored rain. The Sahara Desert’s sand produces scarlet rain, while the Gobi Desert’s sand creates yellow-hued rain. In 2015, milky-colored rain fell in eastern Washington, the result of dust blown in from south-central Oregon’s Summer Lake.

13. One of the world’s driest places is…Antarctica. The southernmost continent receives only 6.5 inches of precipitation each year.

14. It’s rained frogs. Waterspouts can suck water—and its inhabitants—into the clouds above them. In 1873, it rained frogs in Kansas City, an event echoed in the movie “Magnolia.”

15. Aleuts made traditional rainwear out of guts, while some South American tribes used to waterproof their clothes with tree rubber.

16. Ball lightning is an unexplained electrical phenomenon where luminous, spherical balls of electricity seem to hover in the air. Until the 1960s, most scientists didn’t believe it existed.

17. Rainforests are considered the world’s largest pharmacy. More than a quarter of natural medicines have been discovered in tropical rainforests.

18. Monsoons aren’t technically an insane rainstorm, though that’s how the term is commonly used. They’re traditionally defined by seasonal reverses in wind that are typically accompanied by rain.

19. One of the oldest known collapsible umbrellas was used by the ancient Chinese, and was a sign of status.

20. It’s raining cats and dogs. No one knows for sure the origin of the popular phrase. One theory: The obsolete English word “catadupe,”which means waterfall. It’s that, or from dead animals picked up by storm waters.

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