RAIN . The symbolism of rain derives from its correlation with the sacred substance water, a universal metaphor for the origin and renewal of life. The primacy and awesome mystery of natural phenomena for early humans, and his vital dependence on their manifestations, are reflected in the human exaltation of rain as a supreme creative power and intermediary between heaven and earth. In the seasonal revival of nature and the infusion of new life, rain was seen as the dispenser of divine grace and plenty, the promise of survival; in the periodic destruction wrought by storms and floods, as the agent of divine retribution and disaster, the threat of annihilation. Rain signified the descent of heavenly influences upon the earth; at times the gods themselves descended in rain or spoke in the thunder. Like the sun's rays, "the rain from heaven" (Gn. 8:2) was cognate to light, illumination.
The sacrality of sky and the supremacy of rain deities are fundamental elements in the structure of the myths and religions of archaic peoples. As the "most high," sky gods were assimilated to transcendence, their very names often connoting elevation. The Mesopotamian hieroglyph for "height" or "transcendence of space" also meant "rainy sky," and thus linguistically linked rain to divinity. Baal, the chief god of the Syro-Palestinian nomads, was called "rider of the clouds" and was worshiped as the dispenser of fertility. When the Israelites reached Canaan and their prophets condemned the widespread cult of fertility gods, a conflict arose between the worshipers of Baal and those faithful to Yahveh. The ancient Hebrews conceived of rain as a reservoir of treasure in heaven, a benison bestowed in return for loving God and obeying his law, and withheld as retribution for sin. In times of abundance, the Israelites were drawn to the fertility gods, and the Lord's promise to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you" (Ex. 16:4), was forgotten. In the New Testament, rain is the symbol of joy and fruition, the answer to prayer from a loving Father in heaven who sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
The life-renewing, life-sustaining powers of rain have been personified in the pantheons of both primitive and higher religions. Worship of rain gods as symbols of fertility prevailed in the East, among the main branches of Aryan stock in early Europe, and in parts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and many, like the Maya god Chac, were believed to be the creator of all things. The Mesoamerican moon god whose name meant "I am the dew of the heavens, I am the dew of the clouds" was the father of gods as well as of humans, and represented death and resurrection.
The perennial, universal aspiration for rain is reflected in all traditions in the divine promises recorded in their sacred texts. Every Egyptian god was in some way related to water. In the Ṛgveda, the god Varuṇa proclaims, "I made to flow the moisture-shedding waters"; in the Vendidad, Ahura Mazdā pledges to "rain down upon the earth to bring food to the faithful and fodder to the beneficent cow"; in the Qurʾān, Allāh is described as "he who created the heavens and earth and sent down for you out of heaven water." The Persians conceived the tree of life as rising from a lake of rain, its seeds mingling with the water to maintain the earth's fertility. A common saying among the ancient Greeks when rain fell was "The Father [heaven] is pressing grapes." Both tribal rain gods and a national rain spirit were propitiated by the Burmese.
A dominant theme in universal mythology is the celestial marriage between Heaven and Earth, or between the fructifying sky god and fecund earth goddess. Rites and festivals of the seasonal fertilization of the earth by the penetrating rains have been celebrated since Neolithic times, when the correlations of rain and serpent, woman and vegetation, and death and rebirth were integrated into the complex of lunar symbolism. The union of the divine couple was the archetypal image of fruitfulness. Speaking in the storm, the Sumerian high god called himself the "fecund seed." Homer described the conjugal couch where Zeus lay with his spouse on Mount Ida as covered with a cloud from which rain fell, and Aeschylus wrote, "Rain impregnates the earth so that she gives birth to plants and grains." Birth and its attendant dangers are symbolized by a great storm in Vergil's Aeneid. In many of the prayers and tribal myths of North American Indians, the gentle rain is called "female" and the pelting rain "male."
Rites to ensure rain and fertility had their origin in remote antiquity and have been observed throughout the world. At the lower stages of civilization, sorcery and magical charms related to imitative or sympathetic magic were employed by shamans to evoke rain; later, prayer and sacrifice were combined with magico-religious rituals. A rain sacrifice rock painting from the Rusape district of Zimbabwe, now in the Frobenius Institut in Frankfurt, depicts a man standing with hands uplifted as if conjuring heaven, a female figure lying under a tree, and another bending forward above falling rain. Rainmakers were the most important members of the community and exerted enormous authority over the group. There is reason to believe that both chieftainship and kingship stemmed from the powerful position of the shaman. Ramses II of Egypt was credited with the faculty of rainmaking. The Zand Avesta, the Pahlavi translation of the Avesta with added commentaries, states that Ahura Mazdā (Pahl., Ōhrmazd) would raise the dead on the first day of the New Year with libations and purifications by water to ensure rain. Saints, especially in desert lands, were often reputed to be rainmakers, and the lives of Muslim saints abound with such miracles. The offices of the rainmaker are recorded among the Vedic rites of remote antiquity, where the sacred drink soma is called "son of the rain god." Water libations were celebrated by ancient Jewry as a so-called rain charm. At the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, the priest performed the ritual mixture of wine with water from the Pool of Siloam to induce rain. At a later period, Orthodox Jews practiced a rain charm that may have had its origin in fertility rites: As they recited the names of the Ten Plagues of Egypt at the Seder on Passover eve, a few drops of water were poured into a jar of wine and the mixture was cast upon the ground in front of the house. In Greece, after the participants in the Eleusinian mysteries had been purified by water, they cried out, "Let there be rain! Be fruitful!"
According to the Chinese doctrine of "like to like," similar things summon one another, which implies that the dragon, traditionally associated with rain, generates rain. Evidence of rainmaking magic on oracle bones attests to the antiquity of such beliefs. The Li ji (Record of rites) from the first century bce chronicles the practice of ritual nakedness, a magic formula continued into late Chinese history in which even Confucian officials participated in time of drought. Buddhist priests poured water into little holes in the temple floor to symbolize rain going into the earth. Rainmaking spells are mentioned in sūtras of 230 bce.
In many parts of the East, the custom of immersing the fertility goddess, and in Europe the rite of drenching the Corn Mother, reflect earlier practices of sacrificing human victims to induce rain. In Mesoamerica, small children and birds were sacrificed to propitiate rain gods, and on the occasion of the Itzamna festival in March the hearts of certain species of wild animals were immolated. A custom among the Arabs of North Africa was to throw a holy man into a spring to end a drought, and in Russia to drench a priest or the figure of a saint for the same purpose. In societies where blood was assimilated to water, as in Abyssinia (ancient Ethiopia), human blood was the oblation offered to rain spirits. In Java, men whipped one another to draw blood, the symbolic equivalent of rain.
A milder form of rain magic was the sprinkling or scattering of water. In Lithuania, when rain was needed, people sprinkled themselves with water as they stood facing the sun at their morning prayers. The Celtic priests, the druids, bearing the image of a saint, led a procession to a sacred spring or well where water was sprinkled over special stones, which were then tossed into the air to fall to earth like rain. Pausanius left a description of the priests of Lycaean Zeus sacrificing an oak branch to a spring in time of drought, and the wizards of New Guinea and Siberia dipped branches into water and scattered the drops. Northern Dravidian tribes held an "umbrella feast" at the critical period of transplanting the rice crop, and Australian tribes performed ceremonial dances and songs around a pool to call down rain.
Rain dances figured prominently among American Indian tribes. The Omaha, members of a sacred buffalo society, filled vessels with water before they danced. Buffalo-head rituals were performed by the Plains and Woodland tribes when rain was lacking, and the Shawnee dipped a buffalo tail in water and shook it to bring rain. The Hopi and Zuni tribes depicted aquatic animals and symbolic rain clouds on their sand altars, half circles from which vertical lines depended as rain. An important feature of these rites was the bull-roarer, a sacred instrument that simulated the sound of thunder and was originally used in primitive initiations and Greek mystery ceremonies to represent the voice of God. Many of the peoples of Africa and Oceania believed that their gods spoke in the thunder. In the rites of the Oglala Lakota Indians, the water in the sweat lodge represented the thunder beings, fearsome powers that tested the warriors' strength and endurance and brought them the blessings of purification.
Rain accompanied by a thunderbolt symbolizes power or energy. In the form of a double trident, the thunderbolt is prominent in representations of the gods of ancient Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, and Akkad. The Etruscan doctrine of thunderbolts related eleven different kinds of thunder to the powers of eleven gods. The synthesis of a sun god and a storm god connotes the energy of the pairs of opposites. An Assyrian sun god with a thunderbolt, believed to be the national deity Assur, is depicted on an alabaster wall panel from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (c. 850 bce), now in the British Museum. The Hebrew god Yahveh unites traits of both storm and solar god, as does Zeus, who destroyed the Titans with his thunderbolt. His Roman counterpart was believed to descend in the form of a thunderbolt and is represented on the Antonine column as the rain god Jupiter Pluvius hovering over the Roman legions with outspread wings and raining down his power upon them. This same synthesis pertains to the prehistoric Peruvian deity Viracocha, universal father and creator of all things, who as a rain god is depicted with a thunderbolt in each hand, his head surrounded by a rayed solar disk and his eyes shedding tears of life-renewing rain. The names of the Teutonic and Scandinavian war gods (Óðinn, Þórr, Donar, etc.) all mean "thunder."
Lightning symbolizes the action of the higher realm upon the lower, and in every culture has been assimilated either to a god, his weapon, or the manifestation of his sovereignty. At times, lightning has been construed as the salutary arrow of a god bringing deliverance or illumination to humankind, as when Mithra, the Persian god of light, pierced a rock with his arrow to end a drought by freeing the waters; at others, as the portent of his wrath or retribution. The lightning of the Vedic god Indra split the head of the dragon Vṛtra, demon of drought, to release the waters obstructed by him and regenerate the world, which had been made a wasteland. The storm god Rudra and his sons the Maruts, who shared the dual powers of their benign and destructive father, wielded their lightning bolts both to slay and to heal. The lightning god of the Indonesians was venerated as a supreme deity.
In the Hindu-Buddhist notion of the forms of divine manifestation, the vajra, lightning or thunderbolt, symbolizes the mystic, divine energy and the adamantine weapon of truth. As the invincible force in the sphere of transcendental reality, the vajra is the illusion-shattering light of spiritual illumination, which links the grace flowing into the world from the sun with the energy of the lightning bolt. In Buddhist iconography, the vajra is an emblem of the spiritual power of Buddhahood, an image of which is the solar Buddha, Vairocana, encircled by the halo of his emanations. The double trident wand carried by Buddhist monks is a form of the vajra. In early Tantrism, in which magic and science were inseparable, the Vajrayāna, doctrine of the "way of the thunderbolt," related to a form of electric energy.
Rain clouds and thunderstorms symbolized celestial activity in ancient China, and lightning was regarded with the same awe as were the thunderbolts of rain gods in other cultures. Shen, the pictogram for lightning, signifies divinity and the operation of the expansive forces. When the thunder ceases and rain ends, it is the work of demons and the contractive forces. These opposing forces symbolize two facets of the human spirit, the one ascending in life, the other descending in death. In the Book of Changes, the trigram zhen, the Arousing, is the image of thunder and signifies tension resolved after the cloudburst, nature refreshed, deliverance. According to the Li ji, only when the two opposing forces of yin and yang are in proper harmony will the beneficent rains fall, and when they fail to come, yin must be activated.
As a symbol of purification and redemption, rain is associated with the dissolving and washing away of sin, followed by rebirth and renewal. Every torrential rainfall bears the implication of the archetypal flood, the creation destroyed by its creator, and humankind submerged in an initiatory ordeal or cosmic baptism preliminary to redemption and regeneration. The concept of a cataclysmic inundation of the world is found in myths of every part of the world except Egypt and Japan, and only rarely in Africa. The two major interpretations of the Deluge reflect two ways of relating to the universe. The first, for which the early Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh is the model, characterizes humanity's identity with a wholly impersonal universe controlled by the cosmic rhythm or recurrent cycle of the manifestation and disappearance of the world at the turn of every aeon. Engulfing rains alternate with a world drought in the Hindu myth in which Viṣṇu rescues humanity by becoming first the sun, then wind, then fire, and finally a great cloud from which fall the restorative rains. The second concept, exemplified in the biblical story of Noah, represents the flood sent by God as a punishment for humanity's sins and expresses the Semitic dissociation from, and guilt toward, God, with the implication of free will.
No other natural phenomenon has been so universally associated with the Holy Spirit as the rainbow, which on every continent has been the emblem of some aspect of human spiritual life, or some stage in the development of human consciousness. From the myths of Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples to the aborigines of Oceania and the Americas, the rainbow has been equated with the celestial serpent, the Great Father, the creator, or fertility god. The Egyptian sky mother Nut is depicted on coffins and papyri arced over the earth like a rainbow to signify the creation of the world. A representation of this figure is in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. A rainbow goddess in the identical posture appears in Navajo Indian sand paintings made to effect cures.
Like all sky phenomena, rainbows possess an ominous aspect, but for the most part have been regarded as an auspicious omen. An arc of light between earth and sky, the rainbow is a perennial symbol of the bridge linking the material world to Paradise and making possible communication between them. The rainbow was the path to the gods for the Mesopotamian, Indian, Japanese, and Hebrew peoples; for the Nordic peoples, it was the Bifrost, the "tremulous way" to Ásgarðr; in the Greco-Roman world, it was a sign from Zeus. To the Pygmies of equatorial Africa, the rainbow was a sign of the god's desire to communicate with them, and to the American Indian, it was the ladder affording access to the other world. The heroes of Polynesian and Hawaiian myths ascend the rainbow in order to deliver the souls of the dead to Paradise. Often construed as a prophetic sign or portent of blessings when appearing in the sky after a storm or flood, rainbows denote God's appeasement and reconciliation to humankind. Sealing his bond with Noah, God declared, "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth" (Gn. 9:13). As a symbol of transfiguration and heavenly glory, rainbows are associated with the nimbus, aureole, halo, and mandorla surrounding the body of a god or saint. In Buddhism, the rainbow symbolizes the highest state attainable in the realm of saṃsāra before attaining to the clear light of nirvāṇa, and in Hinduism, the "rainbow body" is the highest yoga state. The rainbow is depicted in Christian art as the Lord's throne, and in scenes of the Last Judgment, Christ is frequently portrayed seated on a rainbow. In the Revelation to John in the New Testament, when the door opened in Heaven, "there was a rainbow round about the throne" (Rv. 4:3).
Allen, Don Cameron. Mysteriously Meant: The Rediscovery of Pagan Symbolism and Allegorical Interpretation in the Renaissance. Baltimore, 1970. An exhaustive conspectus of interpretations by Renaissance authors of symbol, myth, and allegory in ancient Egypt and in pagan writers of classical antiquity. Includes an extensive bibliography.
Morley, Sylvanus Griswold. The Ancient Maya. 3d ed. Revised by George W. Brainerd. Stanford, Calif., 1956. A comprehensive account of the benevolent and malevolent rain gods and their personification of the struggle between good and evil in the dualistic Maya religion.
Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 2, History of Scientific Thought. Cambridge, 1956. A fully documented account of the correlations in Chinese thought of the symbolic forms in Daoism and Tantrism as they relate to the positive and negative aspects of rain and the balance of energy in the yin-yang system.
Pettazzoni, Rafaele. Dio: L'essere celeste nelle credenze dei popoli primitivi. Rome, 1922. A history of the symbolism of rain, and of the sky and storm gods, in the belief systems of early peoples of Africa and Australia.
Reichard, Gladys A. Navajo Religion: A Study of Symbolism. 2 vols. New York, 1950. Both volumes are relevant: vol. 1, An Investigation of Symbolism in Navajo Rain Ceremonies ; vol. 2, Symbols in the Sandpaintings of the Rainbow Guardians.
Sébillot, Paul. Le folklore de France, vol. 2. Paris, 1905. A valuable survey of rainmaking rites in southern France from pagan to modern times.
Ann Dunnigan (1987)
RAIN (Heb. מָטָר ,גֶּשֶׁם). The large number of quotations referring to rain in the biblical and talmudic sources may be attributed to the fact that rain is the most important climatic element for the agriculture of Israel, particularly in non-irrigated areas. In comparing these quotations with modern knowledge of rainfall in Israel it is evident that although part of the quotations are in the realm of folklore, many of them are valid and correspond to contemporarily measured data, although the descriptions of rain in the Bible and talmudic literature are mainly qualitative. This correspondence not only shows the keen observations of weather phenomena made in ancient times, but also indicates that during the last 3,000 years there were fluctuations but not fundamental changes in the climate of Israel. The importance of a normal rainfall regime, i.e., an appropriate seasonal distribution of rainfall, for the success of agricultural crops is clearly stated in the Bible on several occasions (Lev. 26:4; Deut. 28:12; Ezek. 34:26), sometimes with special emphasis on the first and last rains of the season (the yoreh and the malkosh) whose importance for agriculture is particularly great (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24). The local nature of
rainfall, expressed in Ereẓ Israel particularly at the beginning and end of the rainfall season, is also mentioned (Amos 4:7; cf. Ta'an. 6b). An impressive description of the results of droughts is available in Jeremiah 14:1–6. Late and strong rains at the beginning of June are as rare and notable nowadays as they were at the time of Samuel (i Sam. 12:16–18). Similarly, three consecutive drought years in the region of Samaria are as rare and notable in the last 50 years of rainfall measurements (1931/32, 1932/33, and 1933/34) as they were at the time of Elijah and Ahab (i Kings 18:1).
In the Talmud and Midrashim
Rain is referred to on many occasions in the Talmud and midrashic literature, particularly in tractate Ta'anit (Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds). In the Mishnah there is a quantitative definition of drought (Ta'an, 3:1). The following references are examples of keen observations
of weather phenomena: R. Eleazar b. Perata paid attention to the variations from year to year in both amounts and times of rain occurrence (Ta'an. 19b). R. Johanan and R. Papa determined that thin clouds under thick clouds are a sign of rainfall (ibid. 9b); the ragged fragments of low clouds, known as scud (nautical term) or stratus fractus (meteorological term), often moving rapidly below rain clouds, indicate rainy weather (which is also the case today). On the same page in the Babylonian Talmud a weather forecast is given by R. Ulla, using the above-mentioned sign. Even a forecast for the rainfall of a whole year is given in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'an. 2:1, 65b). The dates of the beginning and end of the rainfall season in Israel also fit modern conditions (Ta'an. 1:1; Ned. 8:5; see also Yal., Num. 29). As for rain intensities, there are various expressions for slight, moderate, and heavy rains in the Bible (e.g., i Kings 18:45; Ezek. 13:11; 34:26; Ps. 68:10; Prov. 28:3; for the Mishnah see Ta'an. 3).
In Contemporary Israel
Israel is situated on the boundary of two different climatic regions: its northern half belongs to the southern part of a region having the so-called "Mediterranean" type of climate, whose main feature is that the greatest part of the annual rainfall occurs during the moderately cold winter months, while in the warm summer practically no rain falls; the southern half of Israel, the Negev, is situated on the northern boundary of a hot desert. Like every country with a Mediterranean climate Israel also lies near the limit of the cyclonic rains. Most of the rain-bearing cold lows (barometric depressions) arriving or forming in the eastern Mediterranean during the rainfall season are situated in the northeastern part of this sea (the "Cyprus Low"). Such a depression in the lower layers of the atmosphere is generally associated with a cold barometric trough in the higher layers (upper trough). The great majority of rainfall in Israel is due to this combination, even in the southern Negev – which is far away from the center of the Cyprus Low. Rains usually fall in Israel when cold air masses arrive mainly from Russia, the Balkans, or Turkey. These air masses are cold and dry, but in passing over the relatively much warmer waters of the Mediterranean they are heated in their lower layers, absorb much moisture, and reach Israel in a state of marked instability. Then, the land areas of Israel serve as a "trigger" to induce rainfall.
regional distribution of rainfall
For the areal distribution of rainfall over Israel four rules can be stated:
(1) rainfall decreases with increasing distance from the sea, i.e., from west to east (continental effect);
(2) rainfall increases with increasing elevation (orographic effect);
(3) rainfall depends on exposure: of two localities at the same elevation, other conditions being equal, the windward slope facing ascending air (anabatic effect) receives more rainfall than the leeward slope with descending air (katabatic effect);
(4) rainfall decreases from north to south, i.e., with increasing distance from the Cyprus Low and decreasing distance from the planetary desert.
A good example for the first rule is the Valley of Jezreel where the average annual rainfall decreases gradually from west to east (650 mm.–400 mm.), and for the fourth rule – the Coastal Plain (650 mm.–200 mm., north to south). In each of these regions there are no significant differences in elevation. The second and third rules are clearly demonstrated on the Carmel range (600 mm.–850 mm.), where the isolines of rainfall (isohyets) are somewhat similar to those of elevation (isohypses), demonstrating the importance of the height factor. The same applies to two other compact and continuous ranges, namely, Upper Galilee, which is the highest and most northerly region in Israel and therefore the rainiest one (600 mm.–1000 mm.), and the Judean Hills (450 mm.–700 mm.); whereas the Samarian Hills and those of Lower Galilee are broken up and scattered, so that their isohyets do not take a markedly topographic course. The Samarian Hills, which generally become higher from north to south, demonstrate the prevalence of height over latitude when the latter factor is opposed to the former: this is the only region in Israel where rainfall increases from north to south (500 mm.–700 mm.). In the Jordan Rift Valley, on the other hand, the combined influence of southward progress and falling elevation is seen in the rapid decrease of the average annual rainfall from 570 mm. in the northern part of the Huleh Area to 90 mm. at the northern edge of the Dead Sea. Further south, the Arabah between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Eilat, forming the eastern border of the Negev, is the driest region in the country (25 mm.–50 mm.). Even the highest hills of the Negev do not enjoy 100 mm. while the northwestern Negev receives 200 mm. as an annual average.
seasonal distribution or regimen of rainfall
In effect rains fall in Israel only during the period October through May, which is called "the rainfall season." The three central rainy months – the "winter" of the temperate climates, December, January, and February – contribute two-thirds to three-quarters of the annual rainfall in most regions of the country. The remaining 30% is distributed among the first and last months of the rainfall season: the "autumn" months October and November and the "spring" months March, April, and May, although in the Coastal Plain the percentage of rainfall in autumn is greater than in the hill region, while in the hills and other regions of the interior the percentage of spring rains is larger than near the coast. In addition to this west-east variation of the rainfall regime there is a north-south variation: while the northern half of the country has a Mediterranean rainfall regime with the characteristic steep increase from the beginning of the season toward the peak month and a rapid decrease from then to the end of the season, no specific month can be singled out in the central and southern Negev as having a marked maximum, and the curve typical for the Mediterranean regime becomes ill-defined. All the preceding facts are true with respect to a normal rainfall regime, i.e., a seasonal distribution of rainfall in which each month receives its average value. But in fact there are large variations from year to year in the seasonal rainfall, and particularly in its monthly distribution, so that it is difficult to find a season in which each of its months has even approximately received its average amount.
variability of rainfall
There are several statistical methods for measuring quantitatively the variations of annual rainfall from year to year. One measure, called Relative Variability, is defined as the percentage ratio between the mean deviation of individual annual totals from their average and the average; another measure, Relative Interannual Variability, relates, in percent, the mean value of absolute differences between successive annual totals to the average. The values of each of these measures of variability are relatively low (20%–26% rv; 25%–37% riv) in regions with much rainfall (the hill region and Coastal Plain) and higher (≥ 27% rv; ≥ 38% riv) in regions with less rainfall (the Jordan Valley and Negev). This property is of important consequence to non-irrigated areas in the eastern and southern parts of Israel in drought years. For charts, tables, and further details see bibliography.
D. Ashbel, in: Aklim Ereẓ Yisrael la-Azoreha (1951); idem, in: Leksikon Mikra'i, 1 (1965), 94–103; N. Shalem, in: Desert Research… (1953), 153–64; N. Rosenan, in: iej, 5 (1955), 137–53; idem, in: unesco (ed.), Symposium on Changes of Climate… (1963), 67–73; idem, in: Atlas of Israel (1970), sheet iv/2; J. Katsnelson, in: Archiv fuer Meteorologie, Geophysik und Bioklimatologie, 13 (1963/65), 163–72; idem, in: Ha-Enẓiklopedyah le-Ḥakla'ut, 1 (1966), 27–62; idem, in: Gishmei Ereẓ Yisrael ke-Gorem Yesod be-Meshek ha-Mayim shel ha-Areẓ (1968/69).
rain, precipitation in liquid form. It consists of drops of water falling from clouds; if the drops are very small, they are collectively termed drizzle. Rain plays a key role in the hydrologic, or water, cycle in which moisture from the oceans evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates back to earth, and eventually returns to the ocean via runoff into streams and rivers to begin the cycle again.
Formation of Raindrops
Clouds contain huge numbers of tiny droplets of moisture. Raindrops are formed when these tiny droplets are enlarged, first by moisture from the surrounding air condensing on them and then by coalescing with other droplets during their descent. Raindrops vary in size from about 0.02 in. (0.5 mm) to as much as 0.33 in. (8 mm) in thunderstorms. From the time they leave the bottom of the cloud, evaporation takes place and, if the cloud is high, the air warm and dry, and the raindrops small, so that they fall slowly, they may evaporate completely before they reach the earth. If they do so, the drops are called virga.
Measurement of Rainfall
There are thousands of stations throughout the world where rainfall observations and records are made. Included in such records is the fall of snow, reduced to its equivalent in rain. Rainfall is measured, in terms of inches or millimeters of depth, by means of a simple receptacle-and-gauge apparatus or by more complex electrical or weighing devices placed where eddies of air will not interfere with the normal fall of the raindrops. In addition to the daily, monthly, and annual totals, the depth of individual rainfalls and their intensity (amount of rain falling during a specific period of hours or minutes) and other pertinent facts are recorded.
Distribution of Rainfall
One of the primary elements in climate and a factor of tremendous importance in the distribution of plant and animal life, rainfall varies from less than an inch annually in a desert to more than 400 in. (1,000 cm) where the monsoons strike the Khasi hills in Assam, India, and on the windward slopes of Hawaiian mountains. In the United States the range is from less than 2 in. (5 cm) in Death Valley, Calif., to more than 100 in. (250 cm) on the coast of Washington state; in most of the country the average rainfall is between 15 and 45 in. (38 and 114 cm) annually.
Factors controlling the distribution of rainfall over the earth's surface are the belts of converging-ascending air flow (see doldrums; polar front), air temperature, moisture-bearing winds, ocean currents, distance inland from the coast, and mountain ranges. Ascending air is cooled by expansion, which results in the formation of clouds and the production of rain. Conversely, in the broad belts of descending air (see horse latitudes) are found the great desert regions of the earth, descending air being warmed by compression and consequently absorbing instead of releasing moisture. If the temperature is low, the air has a small moisture capacity and is able to produce little precipitation. When winds blow over the ocean, especially over areas of warm water (where evaporation of moisture into the air is active) toward a given coastal area, that area receives more rainfall than a similar area where the winds blow from the interior toward the oceans. Areas near the sea receive more rain than inland regions, since the winds constantly lose moisture and may be quite dry by the time they reach the interior of a continent.
The windward slopes of mountain ranges generally receive heavy rainfall; the leeward slopes receive almost no rain. The southwest coast of Chile, the west coast of Canada, and the northwest coast of the United States receive much rain because they are struck by the moisture-bearing westerlies from the Pacific and are backed by mountains that force the winds to rise and drop their moisture. The territories immediately east of the regions mentioned are notably dry. See weather.
Rain and Religion
The need for rain at a particular time and the dangers attendant upon drought brought rain prominently into the religion of most agricultural peoples. Rain-gods and thunder-gods are more prominent in many mythologies than sun-gods, and they have been propitiated in various ways in different cultures. The rain dances of the Native Americans may, however, be said to be generally typical of all in the elaborate symbolic gestures and patterns and in the extensive use of drums and rattles (presumably sympathetic magic by imitation of the sounds of thunder and showering rain). Because the purpose is to make the fields bear crops, the connection of such rites with those of fertility is obvious.
See J. Burton and K. Taylor, The Nature and Science of Rain (1997); J. Williams, The Weather Book (2d ed. 1997).
rain / rān/ • n. moisture condensed from the atmosphere that falls visibly in separate drops: the rain had not stopped for days it's pouring rain. ∎ (rains) falls of rain: the plants were washed away by some unusually heavy rains. ∎ [in sing.] a large or overwhelming quantity of things that fall or descend: he fell under the rain of blows. • v. [intr.] (it rains, it is raining, etc.) rain falls: it was beginning to rain. ∎ poetic/lit. (of the sky, the clouds, etc.) send down rain. ∎ (of objects) fall in large or overwhelming quantities: bombs rained down. ∎ [tr.] (it rains ——, it is raining ——, etc.) used to convey that a specified thing is falling in large or overwhelming quantities: it was just raining glass. ∎ [tr.] send down in large or overwhelming quantities: she rained blows onto him. PHRASES: be as right as rain (of a person) be perfectly fit and well. when it rains it pours see pour. rain cats and dogs rain very hard. rain on someone's parade inf. prevent someone from enjoying an occasion or event; spoil someone's plans. (come) rain or shine whether it rains or not: he runs six miles every morning, rain or shine.PHRASAL VERBS: rain something out (usu. be rained out) cause an event to be terminated or canceled because of rain: the tournament was rained out.DERIVATIVES: rain·less adj. ORIGIN: Old English regn (noun), regnian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch regen and German Regen.
come rain or shine whether it rains or not; whatever the weather.
rain before seven, fine before eleven traditional weather saying, mid 19th century.
rain cats and dogs rain very heavily; the phrase is first recorded in 1738, used by Jonathan Swift, but the variant rain dogs and polecats was used earlier in Richard Brome' The City Witt (1653). The origin is not known, although explanations adduced include a connection with the supernatural (cats were associated with witches, believed to be able to raise storms), as well as the suggestion that in earlier times heavy rain would have resulted in the bodies of drowned dogs and cats floating in the streets and gutters. Cats and dogs are also proverbial for the enmity between them.
rain on someone's parade in North American usage, prevent someone from enjoying an event; spoil someone's plans.
take a rain check said when politely refusing an offer, with the implication that one may take it up at a later date (a rain check is a ticket given for later use when a sporting fixture or other outdoor event is interrupted or postponed by rain).
See also blessed are the dead that the rain rains on, if in February there be no rain, rains, rainy, Saint Swithin's day, if thou be fair.
See also 27. ATMOSPHERE ; 85. CLIMATE ; 87. CLOUDS ; 246. LIGHTNING ; 375. SNOW ; 394. THUNDER ; 414. WATER ; 417. WEATHER .
- the study of the geographical distribution of rainfall by annual totals. —hyetographic, hyetographical, adj.
- Rare. the branch of meteorology that studies rainfall. —hyetologist, n. —hyetological, adj.
- the branch of meteorology that studies rain. —ombrological, n.
- an abnormal fear of rain.
- the branch of meteorology that automatically measures rainfall and snowfall. —pluviographic, pluviographical, adj.
- the branch of meteorology concerned with the measurement of rainfall. —pluviometric, pluviometrical, adj.
- an instrument for measuring rainfall; a rain gauge.
- raininess. —pluvious, adj.
- the measurement of rainfall with any of various types of rain gauges. —udometric, adj.
- a self-registering rain gauge.