The Smell of Rain

Since Autumn/Fall has arrived, I hope for there to be an increase in rain activity. Not just because it reminds me of the B.J. Thomas song – written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, but because it reminds me of the smell of rain.

I spent a large chunk of my early years on the East Coast. We had plenty of rain and I never thought too much of it. I enjoyed it at times and was annoyed by it at times. When I was in college in Maryland, I remember getting hit with rains that were so hard that you didn’t really need to use your windshield wipers (I still used them). The rain came down so hard and fast that it was almost like another layer of glass that you could see through. Heavy flooding would cause major puddles and driving over the hidden potholes were nerve wracking, but I enjoyed it. Not something I would want to do all the time, but for those moments when there was a massive rainfall, I found joy in the experience.

When I moved to Southern California, things definitely changed. I drove across country and when I arrived in Southern California, they were at more than 200 days without any real rainfall. I think they had broken a record at that time. So that was quite a shock to the system.

After I had started to get used to living in California, I was able to recognize the smell when rain was coming. It was something I never paid attention to in my time on the East Coast, but I finally started to recognize that there was something familiar about the scent. The first time I mentioned the coming rain to my co-workers, they snickered at me. They couldn’t smell anything and didn’t believe I could smell when the rain was coming. But…I was right. It did rain. And then there was another smell that came after the rain.

I remember going on walks/runs with one of my sisters in California and we would talk about the smell of rain coming and the smell after the rain falls. We both knew it was a thing, even if other people thought I was completely off base on this. And we both really enjoyed the aroma, even if it meant we were going to be rained on sometime during our runs.

When I moved back to the East Coast, I decided to drive across country again. When I drove across country the first time (from Maryland), I took a Southern route, leveraging the I-40. I drove through Oklahoma, Northern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, so there were definitely some nice sites to see. When I drove from California back East, I decided to take the I-80, which took me through Utah and Colorado. I was fortunate to witness some incredible rains during that drive. Not only was the rain coming down hard for good portions of time, but there were some flashes of lightning that lit up the sky. I had a feeling of pure amazement as I could see those bolts of lightning in the sky some 2 miles ahead or 1 or 2 miles behind me. I might have had very different feelings if those bolts were a few feet away, but being able to see them from a distance was something that I can still picture in my head, four years later.

You can look things up on the internet pretty quickly now, so you can learn that the smell before rain is the aroma of ozone that is being picked up by the winds. And after the rain hits the ground, the scent is known as petrichor. I’m not a scientist, so I won’t go into the chemical and scientific meanings for these experiences.

Now that I’m living on the East Coast again, the smell of impending rain and the smell of rain falling on the ground is something that I gladly welcome to my senses again. Some people hate the rain. Some people tolerate the rain, but don’t really like it. Some people like the rain, but only from a distance. Some people absolutely love the rain and would sing and dance in the rain all the time if they had the chance. I appreciate the rain. Not just for what it does, but for what it means on a personal level. It reminds me of past conversations. It reminds me of past moments when I’ve had those same smells. It reminds me of some fun times driving I’ve had in the rain. It keeps me positive.


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