Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Raindrop shapes

Q: You see on cartoons that raindrops usually appear like a teardrop. Are they really shaped that way?

A: Not rea l ly, sa id Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. The common appearance of raindrops being shaped like a big tear is not very accurate, he noted.

“Literature has frequently told us that raindrops are often tears from above, and thus are shaped like a teardrop. But that’s not the case. The shape of a raindrop depends on its size. Small raindrops are actually spherical in shape and they take on different shapes as they fall to the ground. The larger ones are often compared to the shape of a hamburger bun. This is caused by air resistance on the drop as it falls to earth.”

Q: Are larger raindrops shaped the same?

A: Large raindrops often split in two because of their size, McRoberts added.

“When a raindrop gets to be large, it assumes a shape that is similar to a small parachute, with a larger area around its base,” he explained. “When this happens, the raindrop is so large that it splits into several smaller drops. A larger raindrop naturally falls to earth faster than a smaller one, but it still takes a while. For example, a large raindrop that fell from a cloud at 5,000 feet would take about three minutes to reach you on the ground. Some raindrops can actually be different colors because of sand or other materials that collect in them.”

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2010-11-04 digital edition

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