Can you smell the rain?

I’ve been told that you can smell the rain.

When growing up on a Saskatchewan grain farm, we had long periods of summer drought. My father told me that he could smell the rain coming. His experiences as a farmer coupled with keen daily observation of weather patterns may have honed his skill to smell when a rainstorm was coming.  

I don’t remember smelling rain coming to dry prairie soil. Perhaps I don’t have a strong sense of smell; perhaps I never paid enough attention to weather patterns. Seeing dark clouds, hearing thunder or checking a weather forecast is how I determine whether there will be rain. 

Nonetheless, many people say there is a certain smell when rain is coming. The smell of rain comes from ozone forced from higher altitudes to nose level where it can be smelled.

The BBC confirms that humans are aware of the smell of rain.

woman smiling near tree outdoor during daytime
Can you smell the rain? — photo courtesy of Jamie Brown on Unsplash


There’s a scientific term for the smell of rain on dry earth — petrichor.

It comes from the Greek words ‘petra’ (means stone) and ‘ichor’ (means fluid). In Greek mythology, Ichor is the fluid that flows through the veins of gods.

Scientists in Australia documented a unique smell in the air that happens before, during and after a rainfall. It comes when a combination of ozone, petrichor, and geosmin are released. The release causes the earthy pleasant smell that we associate with rain.

Spring is typically a rainy season in South West Ontario where I live. In 2021 there has been little rain. Near-record dry conditions during the month of May coupled with many hot ( 30 – 33 degrees C) days are causing moderate to severe drought conditions. This drier-than-average season has bedding plants in most gardens struggling even with sprinklers moistening the ground.  Farmers need moisture to irrigate corn and wheat fields. 

When I walked the beach last night, I smelled the lake.  There were dark storm clouds — but no rain.  The smell and the threat of showers passed over our area.

Most people agree that a good rain shower causes a pleasant, clean smell in the air.  Not all of us will detect the smell of rain before it arrives, but we all love having a good rainfall — especially when the earth is dry and parched.





2 Replies to “Can you smell the rain?”

  1. Oh my, in Yorkshire it was cold and there was so much rain in the first 3 weeks of May I’d gladly have sent it to you. Then, almost overnight, we were plunged into a heatwave (hot by our standards though is only 22 to 26 degrees) which is now into its third week. Seems the weather can be fickle wherever in the world we are.

    1. Rain has come in spurts but not enough to salvage many of the corn and wheat crops. I’ve turned on the sprinklers every second night to water the grass and gardens. While the sprinklers help, the plants don’t respond in the same was as they would with a long, slow rainfall.

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