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The Science of Rain: Why the Air Smells Different Before a Storm

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It smells like it’s about to rain.” That distinctive scent has a name: Petrichor.

Before the rain arrives, a unique smell begins to build due to increasing moisture, and it becomes even more pronounced once the raindrops begin to fall. Here’s how it works: as humidity rises, the moisture in the air causes oils and aerosols to be released from plants, rocks, and other natural surfaces.

When raindrops hit the ground, they trap tiny air bubbles containing dust, bacteria, and soil particles. These bubbles burst and release their contents into the air, creating that familiar, natural aroma. Here are three key components of this scent:

  1. Geosmin: A type of bacteria found in soils and bodies of water, giving off an earthy, musty, or muddy scent.
  2. Plant Oils: These contribute a soapy or waxy smell.
  3. Ozone: While not particularly pleasant, this scent becomes more noticeable when lightning is present.

To capture the essence of this natural phenomenon, I collaborated with Nyiesha Hicks, owner of La Bougie Wick, a locally owned candle-making company that offers hands-on experiences for creating personalized scents. Together, we crafted a candle inspired by Petrichor.

Hicks explains that Petrichor is the primary scent people seek if they want a candle that evokes the smell of rain showers. “I believe people like the scent of rain because it is calming and soothing, making you want to snuggle in bed,” she says.

The enjoyment of scents goes beyond rain showers. Hicks notes that different scents can evoke various moods and even bring back memories, enhancing our sensory experiences in everyday life.

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