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  • 1 : the quality or state of being precipitate : hastiness
  • 2 : an act, process, or instance of precipitating; especially : the process of forming a precipitate
  • 3 : something precipitated: as a : a deposit on the earth of hail, mist, rain, sleet, or snow; also : the quantity of water deposited


In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena) is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that is pulled down by gravity and deposited on the Earth's surface. The main forms of precipitation include rain, snow, ice pellets, and graupel. It occurs when the atmosphere, a large gaseous solution, becomes saturated with water vapour and the water condenses, falling out of solution (i.e., precipitates). Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapour to the air. Virga is precipitation that begins falling to the earth but evaporates before reaching the surface; it is one of the ways air can become saturated. Precipitation forms via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud.

Moisture overriding associated with weather fronts is an overall major method of precipitation production. If enough moisture and upward motion is present, precipitation falls from convective clouds such as cumulonimbus and can organize into narrow rainbands. Where relatively warm water bodies are present, for example due to water evaporation from lakes, lake-effect snowfall becomes a concern downwind of the warm lakes within the cold cyclonic flow around the backside of extratropical cyclones. Lake-effect snowfall can be locally heavy. Thundersnow is possible within a cyclone's comma head and within lake effect precipitation bands. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation is possible where upslope flow is maximized within windward sides of the terrain at elevation. On the leeward side of mountains, desert climates can exist due to the dry air caused by compressional heating. The movement of the monsoon trough, or intertropical convergence zone, brings rainy seasons to savannah climes.


Precipitation is a major component of the water cycle, and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the planet. Approximately 505,000 km3 (121,000 cu mi) of water falls as precipitation each year, 398,000 km3 (95,000 cu mi) of it over the oceans. Given the Earth's surface area, that means the globally-averaged annual precipitation is 990 millimetres (39 in).

Mechanisms of producing precipitation include convective, stratiform, and orographic rainfall. Convective processes involve strong vertical motions that can cause the overturning of the atmosphere in that location within an hour and cause heavy precipitation, while stratiform processes involve weaker upward motions and less intense precipitation. Precipitation can be divided into three categories, based on whether it falls as liquid water, liquid water that freezes on contact with the surface, or ice. Mixtures of different types of precipitation, including types in different categories, can fall simultaneously. Liquid forms of precipitation include rain and drizzle. Rain or drizzle that freezes on contact within a subfreezing air mass is called "freezing rain" or "freezing drizzle". Frozen forms of precipitation include snow, ice needles, ice pellets, hail, and graupel.