It's conventional wisdom in atmospheric science circles: large raindrops fall faster than smaller drops, because they're bigger and heavier. And no raindrop can fall faster than its "terminal speed"—its speed when the downward force of gravity is exactly the same as the upward air resistance.
Now two physicists from Michigan Technological University and colleagues at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National University of Mexico) have discovered that it ain't necessarily so.
Some smaller raindrops can fall faster than bigger ones. In fact, they can fall faster than their terminal speed. In other words, they can fall faster than drops that size and weight are supposed to be able to fall.
And that could mean that the weatherman has been overestimating how much it rains.
The findings of Michigan Tech physics professors Alexander Kostinski and Raymond Shaw—co-authors with Guillermo Montero-Martinez and Fernando Garcia-Garcia on a paper scheduled for publication online June 13, 2009, in the American Geophysical Union's journal Geophysical Research Letters—could improve the accuracy of weather measurement and prediction.
The researchers gathered data during natural rainfalls at the Mexico City campus of the National University of Mexico. They studied approximately 64,000 raindrops over three years, using optical array spectrometer probes and a particle analysis and collecting system. They also modified an algorithm or computational formula to analyze the raindrop sizes.
They found clusters of raindrops falling faster than their terminal speed, and as the rainfall became heavier, they saw more and more of these unexpectedly speedy drops. They think that the "super-terminal" drops come from the break-up of larger drops, which produces smaller fragments all moving at the same speed as their parent raindrop and faster than the terminal speed predicted by their size.
"In the past, people have seen indications of faster-than-terminal drops, but they always attributed it to splashing on the instruments," Shaw explains. He and his colleagues took special precautions to prevent such interference, including collecting data only during extremely calm conditions.
Their findings could significantly alter physicists' understanding of the physics of rain.
"Existing rain models are based on the assumption that all drops fall at their terminal speed, but our data suggest that this is not the case," Shaw and Kostinski say. If rainfall is measured based on that assumption, large raindrops that are not really there will be recorded.
"If we want to forecast weather or rain, we need to understand the rain formation processes and be able to accurately measure the amount of rain," Shaw pointed out.
Taking super-terminal raindrops into account could be of real economic benefit, even if it leads only to incremental improvements in precipitation measurement and forecasting. Approximately one-third of the economy—including agriculture, construction and aviation—is directly influenced by the ability to predict precipitation accurately. "And one-third of the economy is a very large sum of money, even during a recession," Shaw remarks.
The physicists' research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.
Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university, conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers nearly 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forestry and environmental sciences, computing, technology, business and economics, natural and physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.
Jennifer Donovan | EurekAlert!
GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy