Three Types of Precipitation


Precipitation is a type of moisture that drops to the ground from the air. It is not mist, fog or haze, but precipitation can involve different stages of snow, rain, sleet or hail. Although, most people are familiar with precipitation, most people think of the most commons types of weather conditions such as rain, snow or hail.


  • Rain is a liquid type of precipitation. It comes in three different categories: light, moderate and heavy. Light rain falls at a speed of 0.10 inches or below an hour. Moderate rain falls to the surface at a speed of 0.11 to 0.30 inches per hour. Additionally, heavy rain falls to the ground at the speed of 0.30 inches or more an hour. Rain hits the surface in droplets greater than 0.5 mm in diameter. Meteorologists determine the amount of rain by calculating the accumulation during a particular given time. Meteorologists may abbreviate rain as "R" or "RA."


  • Most people typically see snow during the winter months. This form of precipitation is an accumulation of ice crystals that create hexagonal-shape snowflakes. Most snowflakes measure about 1/2 inch in diameter. However, snowflakes can reach up to 2 inches in diameter in certain situations typically requiring close to freezing temperatures and windy conditions. Snow flurries consist of light snow showers that fall in irregular intervals and do not cover the ground. Meteorologists may abbreviate snow as "S," "SNW" or "SN."


  • Hail is a form of precipitation that consists of dropping ice in round shapes measuring at least 0.20 inches in diameter. You may see hail during a thunderstorm. Hail forms when supercooled water and ice crystals freeze. Soft hail forms when supercooled water, ice crystals and cloud droplets connect to the hail at temperatures below freezing. Typically when you cut hail in half, it has a combination of hard ice and soft ice. Abbreviations of hail include "GR" and "A."

Other Forms

  • Some areas experience thunderstorms, which involves snow or rain with lighting. Thunder results from lightening. Additionally, some may call thunderstorms that involve snow thundersnow. Mixed precipitation mixes two or more forms of winter precipitation happening simultaneously in the same locations.

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