England has its fair share of rainy days, but what is rain, what’s the difference between drizzle and a downpour, what’s a rainbow and what causes flash floods? By the end of this post, you’ll be an expert on rain, so there’ll be no excuse to indulge in our favourite bus stop pastime of talking about the weather!
Tristan Gooley can teach you how to read water including how to spot dangerous water in the pitch black (with the help of a clock face), forecast weather from waves and find your way with puddles! Don’t let dogs near puddles as many contain oil, antifreeze, blue-green algae, chemicals, rat urine and lungworm. Keep a bottle of clean water handy instead, with a collapsible bowl.
Rain is caused when water gases from clouds condense to be heavy enough to drop to the ground, which takes a few minutes (sometimes raindrops evaporate before they hit the ground and occasionally you get ‘blood rain’ when rain mixes with red dust). Raindrops are perfect squares when they leave the clouds, then become larger and hit other raindrops to become teardrop-shaped when they hit the ground. One of the nicest smells is ‘petrichor’, the earthy smell caused by falling on clay soil (you often get this when you go outdoors, after a heavy downpour). Drizzle is simply very small raindrops (common in hilly areas as air mixed with water tends to make ‘lighter rain’ that won’t soak you through).
Acid rain is when sulphur mixes with raindrops. Although some is naturally produced by rotting vegetation and volcanoes, the main causes are all manmade including the burning of coal and pollution from cars.
We’ll just look at you. If you looked scared, then we’ll panic (Discovery Channel Crew to volcanologist John Search while filming at Yasur Volcano, that has been continuously erupting for several hundred years).
Rainbows are formed when sunlight scatters from the rainbows onto our eyes. After it rains, raindrops stay in the air and a ray of light goes inside to form a ‘prism’ to split the colours into different wavelengths (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet). Rainbows are not ‘arcs’ but full circles (but you can’t see the full rainbow unless looking down from a tall building or plane).
staying safe in thunderstorms
Thunderstorms are caused by a combination of warm and moist air (they rarely occur in winter), with the sound occuring from spread of air along lightning (which moves faster than sound, so you see it first). The Met Office says to stay safe in storms you should unplug non-essential appliances, seek shelter and avoid water (baths, showers, boating), electricity or metal (umbrellas, wheelchairs, bikes, tent poles, car radios – convertible fabric roofs could catch fire). If exposed (or your hair stands on end), squat to the ground with hands on knees (heads between) to try to not touch the ground.
Pets are terrified of thunderstorms so keep them indoors (some like a den) and use a TV or radio to muffle sound. Stay with them but don’t look worried. Have ID up-to-date, in case they bolt (read tips to help find lost pets).
who gets most/least rain in England?
Southern coastal areas often get ‘scattered showers’ with the pavements dry within hours. This is because it’s mostly ‘drizzle’ (small raindrops that mix with air so it’s not really heavy dense rain). Yet if you go for a mountain walk in the northwest – the combination of Atlantic winds, mountains and lakes (which stop evaporation) means you get soaked to your bones, if caught in drenching rain! Atlantic winds move from west to east which is why weather gets drier as you move east (hence Norfolk and Suffolk which also have no mountains are the dryest places in England, along with London and Essex, which get pretty low rainfall).
If you’re caught in a sudden downpour, what’s the best way to keep dry, if you forgot your waterproofs? The Met Office says whether you walk or run is not dependent on the rain, but to do with your own size, wind direction and size of the raindrops. But their expert says in general (if you’re fit enough) to run is better! Read where to find sustainable raincoats and natural rubber wellies.
In 2004, the Cornish village of Boscastle received so much rain that it caused a serious flash flood. Two rivers burst their banks as 2 billion litres of water poured into the area. Trees were uprooted and swept into people’s gardens. And although no human died, it did cause extensive damage to wildlife habitats and coastal pollution (as cars were swept out to the sea).
The flood was worse here due to the steep valley acting like a funnel for the heavy rainfall. Since then, a flood defence scheme has been put in place, along with new drains to enable water to run into the river at a speedier rate, so hopefully it can never happen again. The river channel has also been made deeper and wider, to take more water from heavy rainfall. Read simple solutions to stop flooding.
Countries near the Equator tend to have a wet season and dry season, rather than our typical four seasons in one day. We have nowhere near as much as rainforests and India, which is home to the wettest place in the world, receiving over 10 times more rain than us. It’s so wet that farmers have to wear body shields (made from banana leaf and bamboo) to withstand their jobs and when it’s dry, schools shut to make the most of the dry weather!
really good books about rain!
- Light Rain, Sometimes Fall has 72 short chapters looking at the ancient microseasons of just a few days each – gardens, streets, park and wild cemetary. From the birth of spring (risshun) in early February to the greater cold (daikan) in late January, these seasons also look for bramble, woodlouse and urban fox, hawthorn, dragonfly and peregrine.
- Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is a meditation on the local landscape in wet weather, by nature writer Melissa Harrison. Whenever rain falls, our countryside changes. Fields, farms, hills and hedgerows appear altered, the wildlife behaves differently and the terrain itself over time is transformed. Melissa follows the course of four rain seasons in four seasons: across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor.
- What Does Rain Smell Like? is by two highly qualified meteorologists and answers 100 questions including why rain doesn’t fall all at once, why the sky is blue, what weather is like on other planets, and how rainbows are formed.