Weather Ready Nation Report: Virga Showers

Weather Ready Nation

As we learned way back in Elementary school, rain forms when microscopic water particles in the upper levels of the atmosphere condense into larger and larger droplets, eventually getting big enough to fall to the ground. However, sometimes this much needed liquid doesn’t manage to make it to the surface. This is what we call virga showers.
William Iwasko is a Meteorologist at the Lubbock National Weather Service office and he joined us to talk about this phenomena called virga.
“Yeah, so normally what happens is the rain will fall, and when it encounters that dry air it will either evaporate and will turn back into a gas. Or if it is snowflakes that are falling it will sublimate, and that means that the ice crystals will turn back into water vapor,” Iwasko says.
Most of the time, virga is harmless when the precipitation is light, making for some eye-catching cloud formations.
Iwasko explaiins, “Really it’s a pretty sight to see. In fact, back in February of 2020 we had some reports from around town of virga snow showers occurring across the city. And people were just mesmerized by the appearance.”
However, in the instance where virga happens with heavier rains and thunderstorms, hazards like downburst winds, heat bursts, and even haboobs can form. 
According to Iwasko, “So if you have a thunderstorm and it precipitates into an air mass that is dry. The precipitation will evaporate, however that air will continue to fall towards the ground. And because it’s much colder than the air around it, it will continue to pick up speed. And so you can get wind speeds in excess of 100 mph with these strong winds.”
This, in turn, increases the risk of fires igniting due to these downbursts drying out all of the vegetation when it impacts the surface. Then all it takes is a small spark for rapid fire to spread. Another occurrence unique to West Texas that can be brought on by these factors is haboobs. These can be especially dangerous as visibility can be reduced to near zero and cause havoc for drivers.

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