Does precipitation increase or decrease as elevation increases? Because I heard that in the mountains they get more precipitation due to the orographic effect and how the mountains drain the moisture from the clouds but in 8th grade my science teacher told me that precipitation actually decreases as elevation increases so I’m just confused?

  • $\begingroup$ There is no general rule of thumb, precipitation depends on a lot of factors besides elevation: Temperature, moisture, direction/origin of air mass, ... $\endgroup$ – Erik Oct 7 '19 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you go high enough (i.e. above the Tropopause) then precipitation from this region is really low! $\endgroup$ – MiguelH Oct 7 '19 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ There's a lot of weather data out there, so you could compute this directly and see if there's a strong enough correlation to at least suggest causality $\endgroup$ – Barry Carter Oct 10 '19 at 13:22

What usually happens is that moisture laden air is blown toward mountains and forced to climb higher. As it rises, it tends to become colder and less dense, so can hold less moisture. The surplus moisture is often precipitated in the hills or mountains, so when the air passes beyond the mountains there is much less rainfall. This is known as rain shadow. Here in Hereford UK we have plenty of rain, but not nearly as much as some places in the Welsh hills which lie 20 miles to the west of us, so I think we benefit a little from rain shadow. It was my experience in Borneo that there was more rain in the hills than at lower altitudes, but whether this holds true for the summit if Mount Kinabalu, which is over 12,000 feet high, I am not so sure. Probably not. More likely the rain is precipitated on the lower slopes.


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