By John P. Rafferty

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Precipitation Precipitation is one of the three main processes (evaporation, condensation, and precipitation) that constitute the hydrologic cycle, the continual exchange of water between the atmosphere and Earth’s surface. Water evaporates from ocean, land, and freshwater surfaces, is carried aloft as vapour by the air currents, condenses to form clouds, and ultimately is returned to Earth’s surface as precipitation. 5 cm (1 inch) deep covering the whole Earth. Because Earth’s average annual rainfall is about 100 cm (39 inches), the average time that the water spends in the atmosphere, between its evaporation from the surface and its return as precipitation, is about ¼0 of a year, or about nine days.

Clouds of each genus are generally lower in the polar regions and higher in the tropics. Four principal classes are recognized when clouds are classified according to the kind of air motions that produce them: (1) layer clouds formed by the widespread regular ascent of air, (2) layer clouds formed by widespread irregular stirring or turbulence, (3) cumuliform clouds formed by penetrative convection, and (4) orographic clouds formed by the ascent of air over hills and mountains. 6 miles) or more, separated by clear zones that become filled in as rain or snow develops.

The number of raindrops may increase so rapidly in this manner that after 41 7 Climate and Climate Change 7 The structure of a thunderstorm. When the atmosphere becomes unstable enough to form large, powerful updrafts and downdrafts (as indicated by the red and blue arrows), a towering thundercloud is built up. At times the updrafts are strong enough to extend the top of the cloud into the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere (or lowest layer of the atmosphere) and the stratosphere.

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