How Do Precipitation and Clouds Form?


Weather is something that all who live on this planet must experience. So, it is good to know how it works and a few terms related to it, such as precipitation and clouds formation.

Because knowing the science behind different climates can help us understand and evaluate what is happening around us.

Added to that, a good understanding of the world’s natural cycles can help us be more conscious about the environment and all the good and bad about it. Knowing even a little more can make us more aware of environmental issues and our particular habits that affect the climate.

This article will discuss the basics of precipitations and cloud formation and the whole water cycle. You will learn here why rain falls, how rivers dry out, the works! So, follow along as we delve in for a spot of a science lesson.

How Do Clouds Form?

This is a fascinating question asked by children and adults alike. What are those fluffy, white things up in the sky? How do they possibly come into existence?

Answering these questions is not as easy as asking them, but a simple definition can clear up the basics for you.

Clouds, as many people probably know, are condensed forms of water and ice. Whatever a cloud’s shape, size, or height, maybe, it had to have been formed in pretty much the same manner. So what is this process we talk about that yields rain clouds and storm clouds and the like? Let’s take a look.

The Formation

Air is very prone to expansion. When it expands and rises, this rising air sometimes cools down to a point where the water molecules start to “clump together.” This occurs so fast; they cannot be torn apart by thermal/heat energy.

The water vapor molecules are, of course, invisible. When a large number of them are combined, however, they become visible as big fluffy clouds. So clouds are only water, in the form of vapor. The vapor molecules are slightly more closely packed, less than liquid but much more than an ideal gas.


There are various types of clouds. Some are denser or larger than others, some are shaped differently, and many have different colors. The colors depend on the sizes of various water droplets that make up a cloud.

The majority of the sunlight typically passes right through larger water droplets. It is the opposite, however, for small droplets. These scatter and reflect a lot of light. Thus, often, you will see that certain parts of a cloud are much brighter than the others.

For example, some clouds we call storm clouds to tend to be grayish or even black in color!

The sizes and shapes of clouds usually depend on the volume and formation of the air expanding and rising to form new clouds. The weather, of course, is a significant factor in deciding this. Thus, it is common to see smaller clouds in certain climates, while others yield larger, darker ones.

How Does Precipitation Form?

Precipitation is any form of water that falls onto the surface of the earth from its atmosphere. It can be in the form of snow, hail, rain, or any other variation. Precipitation originates from the clouds, which are droplets of water suspended in the air.

Water vapor is visible to the naked eye and typically makes up the majority of fog and clouds. Of course, some of it is dust and dirt in the air, which the vapor creates, becoming more visible because of it.

Precipitation forms through the condensation of this water vapor, which is the transformation of gas to liquid. When the clouds become much too heavy for the vapor they carry, the water comes down as liquid rain or solid hail and snow.

Precipitation provides us with fresh water to drink and use. Due to rain and snow, rivers and ponds fill up, water levels rise, and drought is eliminated.

Since the water that falls from the atmosphere is clean most of the time (except for rare cases), it is safe to use for many things. However, rainwater is slightly acidic, but that never really harms us.

As precipitation is a big part of our water cycle, it will help us understand the origination and transformations of this element so vital to our lives. You will realize why rain is so significant, what evaporation does on a larger scale and how clouds can be the root to solving so many of our problems.

Precipitation occurs in three primary forms: rain, snow, and hail.

1. Rain

Raindrops fall in spherical shapes. These droplets form around the molecules of pollutants, like dust, called cloud condensation nuclei. When enough of the rain droplets form, they fall on to earth’s surface.

When the temperature is much too low, rain often freezes on the way down to earth. These frozen drops of rain are called sleet or ice pellets. It is not abnormal to see that both rain and sleet are falling simultaneously during storms.

2. Snow

When temperatures are near or below freezing point, snow forms and falls, snow is solid but a very soft one. It has exceptionally complex structures and is precipitation that forms into ice crystals. These crystals don’t fall individually but stick together to make snowflakes.

These snowflakes usually have exciting designs and patterns, which develop depending on the humidity, temperature, and overall climate at the time. Since snowflakes are tiny and soft and melt in contact with the skin, they do no harm at all. Snowfalls are normally peaceful and enjoyable.

Snow will, of course, melt if the ground temperature is not around or below 0oC. They are wonderful solids that require a freezing point to retain their shapes. Otherwise, they will melt immediately upon contact.

3. Hail

Hail is much harder than snow and positively. A hailstorm calls for immediate shelter since literal pieces of water frozen into solid ice fall straight down from the sky.

These little drops of evil are formed in storm clouds when it gets icy. As soon as cold water droplets touch pollutant particles, they turn solid or into small pieces of ice.

As a hailstone moves up to the top layers, it collects more frozen droplets of water. It falls as one small chunk of ice when too heavy, which generally consists of some pretty snowflake-like patterns. While they usually are quite small, they can get as big as 6 inches and weigh a lot.

These vast stones can be fatal. Thus, taking cover during a hailstorm is very important to avoid any severe injuries and secure your property.


Precipitation is primarily affected by global warming. A comparatively hotter planet causes more evaporation of water to occur. More vapor moves up to form clouds and those, in turn, produce more rain. So, global warming causes wetter weather, especially for drier areas.

But on the contrary, this also results in droughts for tropical countries.

A better understanding of the water cycle is thus vital. How else will you know what’s best to do for the earth and its climate?

Plus, it is, of course, important to remember and realize how and where water – which is such a necessity for our lives – comes from.

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