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What is the difference between rain and showers?

We would expect most or all of the locality to see rain, and for it to last for perhaps a few hours. Showers are more scattered and shorter

It is easy to get confused by what we mean when we talk about rain or showers.

If rain is in the forecast, we would normally expect most or all of the locality to see rain, and for it to last for perhaps a few hours.

Showers are much more scattered and shorter in duration than rain, and not everyone in the locality will get wet at the same time, or even get wet at all.

Photograph of people walking in a town centre holding umbrellas Umbrellas in the rain

Photograph of rain falling into a puddle Rain forming puddles

Classifying rain

Rain is classified according to how it is generated.

Convective rain falls from cumuliform clouds, such as cumulus and cumulonimbus. We call these showers, and they tend to be short-lived.

Showers can make excellent photographs; cloud will tend to be broken, casting interesting light and shadow across the horizon.

Showers can be very hit and miss, when sunshine and showers are forecast, you may be unlucky and be in the firing line for quite a few showers, but there is the possibility you could stay dry all day, so it’s a tricky one both to forecast, but also to make decisions on, so some extra information is needed.

Photograph of a shower in the distance out to sea Showers in the distance

Frontal rain

Frontal rain is generated at frontal boundaries, where warm, moist air glides up and over cold, dense air. This produces layer cloud, and tends to last much longer than a shower.

Rain in association with a front often gives a few hours of persistent rain with overcast skies, making activities such as photography difficult; both from a visual point of view, but also as being out in this weather can be fairly unpleasant.

Photograph out through a rain-covered bus window in London looking at vehicles on a road at traffic lights in the rain Rain in the city

Orographic rain

Orographic rain results from moist air blowing from the sea over hilly land. Damp air rises, and condenses into cloud. This is why hilly, coastal land is wetter than lower coastal areas.

Photograph of some mountains in the rain Rain over mountains

A coloured map of the U, with browns representing below average rainfall and blues representing above average rainfall. High ground in the west clearly shows up as blue, with browns further east and southeast. Average annual rainfall in the UK highlighting the wet mountains in the west

Map of the UK showing where the high ground is Topography of the UK for comparison with the rainfall map above

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