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precipitation

Moisture that falls from clouds. Although clouds appear to float in the sky, they are always falling, their water droplets slowly being pulled down by gravity. Because their water droplets are so small and light, it can take 21 days to fall 1,000 feet and wind currents can easily interrupt their descent. Liquid water falls as rain or drizzle. All raindrops form around particles of salt or dust. (Some of this dust comes from tiny meteorites and even the tails of comets.) Water or ice droplets stick to these particles, then the drops attract more water and continue getting bigger until they are large enough to fall out of the cloud. Drizzle drops are smaller than raindrops. In many clouds, raindrops actually begin as tiny ice crystals that form when part or all of a cloud is below freezing. As the ice crystals fall inside the cloud, they may collide with water droplets that freeze onto them. The ice crystals continue to grow larger, until large enough to fall from the cloud. They pass through warm air, melt, and fall as raindrops.

When ice crystals move within a very cold cloud (10 degrees F and -40 degrees F) and enough water droplets freeze onto the ice crystals, snow will fall from the cloud. If the surface temperature is colder than 32 degrees F, the flakes will land as snow.

Precipitation Weights:

one raindrop .000008 lbs

one snowflake .0000003 lbs

one cumulus cloud 10,000,000 lbs

one thunderstorm 10,000,000,000 lbs

one hurricane 10,000,000,000,000 lbs

Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)