The Water Cycle - Precipitation

As water is carried around the world in the form of clouds, some weather patterns will cause the clouds to release their water.

As we discovered looking at the different types of clouds, not all of them produce precipitation, and different types of clouds produce different types of precipitation.

What do we mean by precipitation? Well, the Bureau of Meteorology says that it is “All forms in which water falls on the land surface and open water bodies as rain, sleet, snow, hail, or drizzle.” So essentially, it’s any means by which the water that has condensed into cloud formations begins its return journey to Earth’s surface. 


Snowflakes are tiny ice crystals gathered together that fall during cold weather. Snow will sometimes fall when the air temperatures are still below freezing, only to melt as the temperature increases on the way down. This is why, sometimes, you’ll hear the meteorologists on television saying that snow will fall to a certain altitude - the air above that height will be cold enough for snow, while closer to sea level, the snow will melt back to rain drops.


Sometimes, instead of forming crystals and snowflakes, the ice in the clouds freezes and creates balls of ice - or hail. Hailstones can form very quickly, and can be even larger than a cricket ball at times.
Did you know? The heaviest hailstone ever recorded weighed over a kilogram.

Sleet Sleet

While snow and hail form in the clouds, sometimes raindrops hit colder air as they fall and freeze on the way down. We call this sleet, and it often appears in storms with smaller ice crystals, forming slushy snow when it hits the ground. Sleet is also small balls of ice, but is different to hail because it didn’t form in the clouds.


Rain is the most common form of precipitation, when water falls to the ground in the form of liquid droplets. Raindrops usually form around microscopic particles such as dust or other pollution, attracting other tiny droplets until their weight is too great to remain in the atmosphere and gravity pulls it back to earth.

West Coast Rain Blue


Raindrops are categorised by size - being 0.5mm or larger. If droplets are smaller than this, they are classified as drizzle. You’ll usually find drizzle associated with low-altitude stratocumulus clouds and cold temperatures.

Was this page useful?

Rate this page

  • Rate as Yes0% Yes votes
  • Rate as No100.00% No votes
Have your say