What are the five main types of precipitation?

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gsenviro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Precipitation, in the simplest terms, is the process by which water, contained in the clouds, falls down under the influence of gravity. There are several forms of precipitation, including rain, snow, hail, sleet, drizzle, freezing rain, etc. Among these forms, rain and drizzle are the only precipitation types that deliver liquid water; all others cause frozen water to fall down on the ground. 

Rainfall is the most common form of precipitation and occurs when water droplets grow to a size of 0.5 mm or more. Rainfall can be very light, moderate, or very heavy (resulting in flooding).

If the size of the droplet is less than 0.5 mm, the precipitation is called drizzle. 

Snow is the precipitation in the form of solid, frozen water. Snow is formed when the temperature is below freezing and falls down to the surface. If the temperature in the atmosphere is not sufficient to melt the snow, we receive snowfall.

Hail is commonly observed during thunderstorms and consists of very large pieces of ice (5 mm or larger). 

Sleet occurs when snow partially melts during its fall through warm layers and it refreezes when the drops fall through freezing conditions. Thus, hail is the precipitation in which we receive snow pellets. 

Freezing rain happens when supercooled water droplets fall on surfaces that have freezing temperatures. This causes the water to freeze on the surfaces, such as roads, pavements, cars, etc. 

Hope this helps.

dcbiostat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Precipitation is a form of water that falls from a cloud. Five main types of precipitation are rain, snow, hail, sleet, and freezing rain. Each of the five main forms of precipitation are briefly explained below.

Rain

Rain is in the form of liquid water. It is by far the most common form of precipitation.

Snow

Snow forms via sublimation. In other words, snow forms when water vapor turns directly into a solid state (ice) without first becoming a liquid.

Hail

Hail forms in cumulonimbus clouds. Ice crystals that begin to fall towards Earth’s surface are lifted by a gust of wind within the cloud. Thus, they are brought up higher into the cloud. As this occurs, the hail grows in size as it accumulates more moisture within the cloud. The blowing of a hail ball back up into the cloud can occur several times. Eventually, a hail ball becomes so large and heavy that it falls to Earth.

Sleet

Sleet is a mixture of snow and rain. Sleet is formed when raindrops travel through a cold region of the atmosphere on their way down to Earth. This causes the raindrops to slightly freeze.

Freezing Rain

Freezing rain does not freeze on the way down to Earth. Rather, freezing rain freezes as soon as it hits an object on Earth.