Rain vs. Showers Defined: What’s the difference?

Weather Glossary

Oftentimes, Meteorologists use the words rain and showers interchangeably while others take these two words verbatim. Depending on who you ask, you might get a slightly different answer. Although there is usually a general consensus as to the difference between rain and showers.

They may seem like the same thing, right? Rain means rain, and showers mean rain too, but there is technically a difference between them and what they bring in terms of weather.

According to the National Weather Service, rain is used to describe precipitation that is relatively continuous and uniform in intensity. Showers are used to describe precipitation that is characterized by suddenness in terms of start and stop times, and rapid changes in intensity.

Think of showers like you’re turning on a faucet or hose, but on and off every so often. It’s not a constant stream of water or precipitation that lasts much more than 20 minutes or so at a time. You might get some dry breaks in between showers with both peaks of blue and overcast skies in the mix.

Rain is more similar to turning on a faucet and keeping it on for over an hour at a time with little to no interruptions. The precipitation in this case can last for hours at a time at a fairly steady pace. The clouds will usually have little vertical development and spread out over a large area of the sky.

Clouds typically associated with rain are more flat and widespread in appearance such as nimbostratus clouds, and showers usually come from billowing cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds that bubble way up into the sky. They also typically move through the area at a fast pace, which is why we call these “passing showers” at times.

Note: Showers can contain both rain or snow too!

This can be helpful when making any outdoor plans and deciding if the day will be a complete washout (rain), or have enough dry time to get at least some outdoor activities in (showers).

Since these phrases are sometimes used together in the same sentence (ie. rain showers) as well as interchangeably, it’s always a good idea to double check with our latest weather forecast that the News 8 Weather team keeps updated all day long. This will ensure you’re fully informed with the full and complete description of what to expect weather wise in your area.

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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