What Is The Real Shape Of A Raindrop And Why?

What Is The Real Shape Of A Raindrop

We all know what the shape of a raindrop is, right? But what if I tell you more than 90% of you are wrong. We examine what the real shape of a raindrop is and why. 

I am sure the majority of you thought of a teardrop shape, and nobody can blame you. The symbol of a teardrop is used everywhere to represent water. Whether you find this shape on a beauty product or a simple weather forecast, the teardrop shape always gets used.

In truth, a real raindrop falling through the sky looks very different from a teardrop shape. Raindrops also do not retain their exact original form, from the moment they form to the point where they start growing in size as they fall towards the ground.

And this will be the focus of this article. We will look at how a raindrop is shaped, and how it changes shape as it starts falling to the ground after growing too big to be held in the air.

Before we start examining the real shape of a raindrop in the air, we first need to understand the reason for our association with a teardrop shape came.

Where Does the Teardrop Shape Come From?

The answer is straightforward. A raindrop falls too quickly and is too small for the naked eye to make a precise observation.

Teardrop Shape

We have to rely on the waterdrops hanging from a faucet or tree leaf. Or observe the drops of water running down your face or a window.

In the former scenario, the skin of the waterdrop holds on to the object from which it is hanging. It creates a thin tail. The gravity causes the bulk of the water to accumulate in the lower "belly" of the drop.

In the latter scenario, the friction causes the tail to hold on to the surface of an object. The bulk of the water gets concentrated at the bottom of the drop.

In both cases, the form of the waterdrop is tear-shaped. It is also the reason we associate the shape of a raindrop with the form of a teardrop. 

What Is The Real Shape Of A Teardrop?

Although a raindrop takes on multiple shapes as if it falls through the air and accumulates additional water droplets, two forms can be associated with a raindrop:

  1. Spherical Shape
  2. Oval ("Hamburger Bun Shaped") Shape

1) Spherical Shape

Spherical Shape

When humid air in the atmosphere cools down sufficiently for condensation to take place, small water droplets form around dust, pollen, and smoke particles. These water droplets are spherical (round) in shapes, mainly due to the surface tension of the skin of the droplet.

At his point, they are still extremely small, around 1 mm (0.04 inches), and trillions of these droplets are floating around in the air.

2) Oval (Hamburger Bun Shaped) Shape

Hamburger Bun Shape Shape Raindrop

As these small water droplets come in contact with each other, they merge, and the resulting raindrop grows larger. This process continues until it becomes too large to be held in the air, and starts falling to the ground.

As it falls and picks up speed, the raindrop encounters wind resistance from the bottom which flattens the underside of its surface, deforming the spherical shape. 

As a result, the raindrop deforms into a distorted oval shape, much like the upper half of a hamburger bun. It is also the typical shape most experts associate with a falling raindrop.  

The Ongoing Deformation And Development Of A Raindrop As It Continues To Fall To The Ground

Continual Deformation And Development

Jelly Bean Shape

Although the forms mentioned in the previous section, are the two primary shapes attributed to a raindrop, it keeps on deforming as it falls towards the ground. It keeps growing in size as it merges with more droplets and speeds up as a result.

As the bigger raindrop accelerates to the ground, it encounters even stronger wind resistance causing it to deform even further. Very soon, the shape changes to one resembling a jellybean, with the heavy outer edges pointing down.  

Final Deformation And Breakup Of A Raindrop

Raindrop Breaking Up

If the raindrop continues to fall beyond this point, the wind resistance, combined with the increasing weight of the waterdrop as it gathers new smaller droplets, causes the structure to become unstable.

Eventually, this leads to the raindrop to break apart into smaller pieces. Depending on how high up in the atmosphere it takes places, the drops that were broken up hit the ground as smaller raindrops, or grow and develop in the same manner as the original raindrop.   


As is clearly obvious, a raindrop may have two primary shapes. But depending on which part of its deformation cycle it is on, or where it is in its path through to the ground, you can also find it in a variety of other different forms.

Conclusion

You will understand by now that a raindrop takes on many forms after it is created and starts falling towards the ground. One shape that it is NOT, however, is that of a teardrop. (I discussed this misconception in detail at the start of the article.)

Although primarily spherical or "hamburger bun-shaped" in form, the raindrop can deform even further. If it is allowed to keep falling to the ground, grow in size, and accelerate.

(Due to the increasing wind resistance and the larger size due to the accumulation of more droplets, the raindrop may take on a peanut-shaped form, or even become entirely distorted and break apart into smaller waterdrops.)

The aim of this article was to help you understand what precisely the shape of a raindrop is and why. Secondly, we wanted to dispel the myth of the teardrop shape that the majority of people associate with a raindrop.

Feel free to leave me any comments, questions or suggestions, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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Until next time, keep your eye on the weather!

Wessel

Wessel Wessels
 

Lifelong weather enthusiast. Interest in all things weather-related, and how global climate and local weather interact. Home weather station owner for almost 2 decades, but still learning and expanding my knowledge every day. Keen on sharing my knowledge and get more people involved and interest in both their local weather and how it interacts with climate on a global scale. Love sharing my knowledge on home weather stations, how they work and the many ways you can use them to your advantage. All in all, just a bit of weather nerd.

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