There seems to be proof for this, while some individuals claim they can’t, and others think it’s nonsense.
Can you smell the rain? Many people think they can, and here’s an explanation of why that may be true.
Image Credit: Andrey Bondarets/Shutterstock.com
Have you ever stepped outside on a scorching summer day or an especially chilly, dry winter afternoon and thought you might smell the rain? Is there any evidence for this, or is it simply another myth? It seems that not everyone can smell impending adverse weather nasally.
People tend to disagree quite a bit about the idea that one can smell the rain before it falls. A glance at social media is all it takes to see that while some people are convinced about being able to predict the weather with their noses, others appear far more dubious. Regardless of your opinion, these claims are supported by some evidence. In truth, there are some reasons why rain can be sensed before it falls, the most important of which has a strong connection to petrichor.
The Greek words for stone (petros) and the fluid that flowed through the veins of the ancient gods (ichor) are combined to get the English word petrichor. It alludes to the well-known, strangely gratifying aroma that the ground emits after a significant downpour, particularly one that follows a protracted dry spell. Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas, two mineralogists, originally used the name in 1964.
Petrichor is one of the most beloved odors in the world for many people, but until recently, no one was entirely sure why humans found it so appealing. Then, in 2020, researchers discovered that other creatures are also drawn to the smell.
This is because a common soil bacterium called Streptomyces creates a geosmin substance. We seem to be strangely drawn to the smell of geosmin. In fact, humans are better than sharks at smelling blood in the water when only trace levels of the substance are present. The bacteria create geosmin to attract animals, primarily insects and other invertebrates, and larger animals, who subsequently ingest their spores and spread them across a wider area.
So, as demonstrated by researchers in 2015, when it rains, water droplets hit a surface before flattening out, trapping pockets of air in the ground’s pores. These pockets then suddenly erupt from the water, turning into tiny aerosols. They do this by carrying any debris from the ground with them, including geosmin, which can then be whipped up by the wind and transported far and wide, even kilometers ahead of the rainclouds themselves. People are probably smelling rain on the horizon when these aerosol particles are present. Because the winds carry bacteria up, this phenomenon may also explain why small germs have been detected high in the atmosphere.
The presence of ozone in the wind is another component that contributes to the smell of impending rain. Compared to petrichor, which has a more earthy aroma, this chemical smells sweeter.
The Greek word dozen, which means “to smell,” gives its name to ozone, which is composed of three oxygen atoms. Although artificial fertilizers or other contaminants can also produce it, it is a naturally occurring gas. It can be created by an electrical charge that divides oxygen molecules in the atmosphere from nitrogen molecules through a lightning strike or other electrical charge. Some of these substances will combine again to generate nitric oxide, which may occasionally become ozone when interacting with other substances in the atmosphere.
A downdraft carries ozone from a thunderstorm to the ground, where people may smell it, and can be a warning sign of impending heavy rain.
Thus, you’ll know to grab an umbrella just in case the next time you step outside on a crisp day, and your nose picks up the scent of something damp and fascinating on the breeze.
At the time of writing, fact-checkers verified the accuracy of every “explainer” item. To keep the material up to date, text, pictures, and links may be modified, removed, or added to in the future.
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