General Question

syz's avatar

Is there some phenomenon that would cause rainwater to smell bad?

Asked by syz (35647points) May 24th, 2010

Here in NC, we’re experiencing a lot of heavy showers and thunderstorms because of a low pressure system parked offshore. On two separate occasions over the last week or so, the start of the rain has been accompanied by the smell of sewage, or sulfur. My partner has also noticed the smell, so I feel pretty sure that it’s a legitimate occurrence. (She often accuses me of having a “dog nose” because I have an acute sense of smell, but she noticed the same thing independently.)

Why would the rain smell?

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8 Answers

wyrenyth's avatar

Acid rain (Wikipedia Says: any form of precipitation that is unusually acidic, i.e. elevated levels of hydrogen ions (low pH). It can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals, and infrastructure through the process of wet deposition. Acid rain is caused by emissions of compounds of ammonium, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur which react with the water molecules in the atmosphere to produce acids.) would do it. Because of the sulfur content, you would notice the “bad egg” smell. It also could be causing flooding in Jersey, and the pressure system could be bringing their smell down towards you. Icky.

jfos's avatar

@wyrenyth Maybe North Jersey, not South.

SeventhSense's avatar

More likely Georgian paper plants. I remember in Savannah the smell from those plants was like a chemical bath in the air regardless of the weather. I loved the town but that smell kept me from settling. She’s closer to that than Jersey but acid rain is a worldwide phenomenon. Not to mention the massive amounts of seawater that will be absorbed by the atmosphere over the Gulf which will rain down upon us. Good times.~

P.S.- I’ve never remembered being in New Jersey and noting a rain water smell.

wyrenyth's avatar

@jfos Sorry if I offended, I’ve never actually lived far enough north to “smell” Jersey, I just remember Conan making fun of the whole situation back when Late Night was good.

@SeventhSense It’s possible, but I’ve never found the smell to be that pervasive. You can generally get away from it just by going out on to Tybee Island.

I’m going to go out on a limb say that either flooding of a local septic tank due to the incoming water is causing the stench, or mild acid rain might be the cause. Either way, it’s not something that can really be changed by anything less drastic than moving. ;D

njnyjobs's avatar

It could be stench coming from the cesspools of hog farmers producers that abound in North Carolina. Pigs excrete four times as much waste as humans, and it’s turning North Carolina into one vast leach field.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Just an idea here, but it’s possible the airstream has brought pollution from a plant (or anything else that might release sulfur into the atmosphere) in your relative vicinity. In any case, @wyrenyth is correct that rain collects particulates from different compounds as it falls. I’m not sure whether this would cause a smell if the particulates were all sulfur, but it makes sense.

SeventhSense's avatar

With the continuation of disasters like the Gulf how long will it be until we are all poisoned.

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