Why Does Rain Smell So Good

Comments 2 by Rebecca Bollwitt

In Vancouver we have at least a dozen ways to say it’s raining out, from light drizzle tapering to showers, to downpours and deluges. The rain also has many sounds. There’s the splash of vehicle crossing an intersection, a persistent single drop beating down on a window ledge, and the popcorn dance of water beads hitting the top of an umbrella. What about the scent of the rain? The first time a dusty summer sidewalk sizzles under a much needed sprinkling, or when the park has been soaked for two weeks straight and the scent of cedar slips down onto the mulch path from each evergreen limb.

Rain fell the night before
Photo credit: Eric Flexyourhead on Flickr

Why Does Rain Smell So Good?

A study published in the journal Nature Communications was recently shared by Mashable says that the rain smells so good because when raindrops land on certain porous surfaces, they can trap tiny air bubbles containing small particles, which then shoot upward, into the air.

These aerosols are likely responsible for carrying aromatic elements, along with bacteria and viruses stored in the soil.

Aerosols are small liquid droplets or solid particles that are suspended in a gas, and it is these particles that are responsible for the smell of rain after a light to moderate shower on a warm day, a smell that is known to scientists as “petrichor”.

The study also says that one complicating factor, which helps explain why heavy rainfall is not as associated with the smell of rain, is that although raindrops can generate aerosols, successive raindrops can actually eliminate them from the air by colliding with them like a missile.

Big Grey world, small orange leaf
Photo credit: Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic on Flickr

The rain to me is an umbrella fort on the patio as a child, walking to school and waiting for the bottom cuffs of my pants to dry out before lunch time, cringing when someone walks under an awning with their golf umbrella open, relying on nothing but Gore-Tex to keep me dry, camping in June — it always rains when we camp in June — and countless walks in the park with my husband. The rain might seem to ruin a vacation, festival, or concert but it’s the reason Vancouver is so spectacularly green throughout the year. Things could be much worse really, at least it’s not a Polar Vortex for instance — I say as I type this from my in-laws’ home in Iowa. For me, the smell of the rain is quite simply the smell of home.

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2 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. MaggiSaturday, January 24th, 2015 — 7:19pm PDT

    Sweet! I like this essay. I like rain too.

  2. DarrenSunday, January 25th, 2015 — 1:32pm PDT

    Nice post! We’re launching a new video in a couple weeks called “Vancouver Rain”. It contains many of the same sentiments.

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