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Geosciences LibreTexts

7.9: Review

  • Page ID
    9948
  • Cloud droplets that form on cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) overcome a formation barrier caused by the surface tension of the curved surface. However, because there are so many CCN between which the available water is partitioned, the result is a large number of very small droplets. These drops grow slowly by diffusion, and develop a monodisperse droplet-size distribution. Such a distribution reduces droplet collisions, and does not favor droplet growth into precipitation hydrometeors. Hence, we get pretty clouds, but no rain.

    Warm-cloud (T > 0°C) rain can happen in the tropics, particularly over oceans where there are fewer CCN allow formation of a smaller number of larger drops. Several other processes can cause the droplet sizes to have more diversity, resulting in different terminal velocities for different drops. This encourages collision and coalescence to merge smaller droplets into ones that are large enough to precipitate out.

    In clouds colder than 0°C, ice nuclei trigger ice crystals to grow. Ice crystals can exist in the air along with supercooled liquid drops. Because of the difference between liquid and ice saturation humidities, the ice can grow at the expense of evaporating liquid droplets. If the ratio of water to ice hydrometeors is about a million to one, then most of the water will be transferred to ice crystals, which are then heavy enough to fall as precipitation.

    As larger ice particles fall and hit smaller supercooled liquid droplets, the droplets can freeze as rime onto the ice crystals, causing the hydrometeors to grow even faster. This process can create graupel and hail. Also, ice crystals can aggregate (collide and stick together) to make larger clumps of snow. Most rain at midlatitudes results from melted snow that form from this “cold cloud” process.