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Joe_Freeman's avatar

What is that characteristic smell of rain?

Asked by Joe_Freeman (504points) June 16th, 2009

When rain first starts falling, if it hasn’t rained in a while, there is a characteristic “fresh” smell that is immediately detectable. What is that smell, and why does it go away after the rain has been falling for some time?

I live in Southern California; I don’t recall if I’ve detected the smell in other places.

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22 Answers

syz's avatar

I found this

rooeytoo's avatar

Where I live, there are basically only 2 seasons, the wet and the dry. During the dry which lasts from sometime in April or May until November or December. There is usually no rain at all during that time.

When the first rain comes, the earth has been baked and has been so hot for so long, there is a distinctive scent, but it is not what I would usually associate with a rain smell. I really don’t know how to describe it! I’m not much help!

asmonet's avatar

It’s called petrichor and I love it.

gymnastchick729's avatar

I think it smells like worms?

Les's avatar

If there is a thunderstorm (not just rain), you also can smell ozone. Ozone has a very distinct sweet odor and it is produced in large amount in thunderstorms. But I think syz is on the right track. There are many things you smell when it rains.

chyna's avatar

@gymnastchick729 That’s what I always associated the smell with.

PapaLeo's avatar

@Joe_Freeman I remember that smell, growing up in the Inland Empire. I now live in Northern Europe (Netherlands) which is considerably wetter and greener than home. Here there’s only a mild version, and only if it hasn’t rained in a long time.

augustlan's avatar

Some say it smells like forgiveness.

ubersiren's avatar

I don’t have anything to add, but I just wanted to say that this was a GQ and I learned a lot from all the GAs! I lurve Fluther!

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I like the smell of summer rain on sun-baked asphalt. Reminds me of my childhood. Best smell in the world.

@asmonet, thanks for giving a name to something I have always lurved.

Joe_Freeman's avatar

@ubersiren Yes, I agree, these are some wonderful answers. I thank you all very much!

mattbrowne's avatar

It depends on the ground. Wet leaves. Cut grass. Dust…

La_chica_gomela's avatar

What about that distinctive smell / feeling(?) when it’s about to rain—you know? I can always tell when it’s about to start raining because there’s something different, maybe because the pressure changes, but I feel like there’s a smell also. You guys know what I’m talking about?

asmonet's avatar

@La_chica_gomela: You might want to click the links in the thread.

asmonet's avatar

Yeah, my bad. I thought you were talking about the smell only. That’s what I get for skimming.

It’s a combination of a drop in pressure, ozone and ions and stuff.
That’s what they told me in my Florida weather class.

Yes, in Florida you sometimes take a class on weather. Just weather. Not even full geosystems. It’s ridic.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I was talking about the before rain smell/feeling, mostly. it seemed like both of the links were talking about during/after rain smells, etc. those are distinct scents, for me…

Joe_Freeman's avatar

My question was actually about that smell one can detect just as rain starts falling, literally seconds after the first raindrops, though it probably lasts several minutes into the “storm.”

FWIW, in New York, where I grew up, there was rain, and then there were storms, the latter much more substantial than just plain old rain. But in Southern California, any rain is referred to as a storm, which always gives me a chuckle since they are almost always storms of the mildest imaginable variety.

asmonet's avatar

@Joe_Freeman: The earthy, tangy smell? Like the kind that’s strongest in the summer? If so, that’s petrichor.

FWIW, your New York ‘storms’ are nothing to my childhood Florida rainfall. If you want a storm, come hang out in the lightning capital.

rooeytoo's avatar

I have never seen anything like the lightning and storms in the NT of Australia. Virtually every day for 3 or so months, one storm after another. It is truly nature’s greatest lightshow of prolonged lightning.

According to @asmonet‘s reference, it is at the top of the list! and I can attest to it.

The smell though is only detectable for the first rain or so, after that, it is so wet, it just starts to smell mildly fetid.

evegrimm's avatar

I’ve always associated rain with the smell of creosote bushes—but that could be very similar to the petrichor that @asmonet was talking about. (Or possibly the geosmin that makes up the petrichor??)

Either way, cresote bushes smell lovely, especially when wet!

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