Rain is liquid precipitation, as opposed to non-liquid kinds of precipitation such as snow, hail and sleet. Rain requires the presence of a thick layer of the atmosphere to have temperatures above the melting point of water near and above the Earth's surface. On Earth, it is the condensation of atmospheric water vapor into drops of water heavy enough to fall, often making it to the surface. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated leading to rainfall: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Virga is precipitation that begins falling to the earth but evaporates before reaching the surface; it is one of the ways air can become saturated. Precipitation forms via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Large rain drops are oblate-shaped and small drops are spherical. Moisture moving along three-dimensional zones of temperature and moisture contrasts known as weather fronts is the major method of rain production. If enough moisture and upward motion is present, precipitation falls from convective clouds (those with strong upward vertical motion) such as cumulonimbus (thunderstorms) which can organize into narrow rainbands. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation is possible where upslope flow is maximized within windward sides of the terrain at elevation which forces moist air to condense and fall out as rainfall along the sides of mountains. On the leeward side of mountains, desert climates can exist due to the dry air caused by downslope flow which causes heating and drying of the air mass. The movement of the monsoon trough, or intertropical convergence zone, brings rainy seasons to savannah climes. Rain is the primary source of freshwater for most areas of the world, providing suitable conditions for diverse ecosystems, as well as water for hydroelectric power plants and crop irrigation. Rainfall is measured via rain gauges. Rainfall amounts can be estimated by weather radar.
The urban heat island effect leads to increased rainfall, both in amounts and intensity, downwind of cities. Global warming is also causing changes in the precipitation pattern globally, including wetter conditions across eastern North America and drier conditions in the tropics. Antarctica is the driest continent. Precipitation is a major component of the water cycle, and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the planet. The globally averaged annual precipitation over land is 715 millimetres (28.1 in), but over the whole Earth is it much higher at 990 millimetres (39 in). Climate classification systems such as the Köppen climate classification system use average annual rainfall to help differentiate between differing climate regimes. Rain is also known or suspected on other worlds, composed of methane, neon, and sulfuric acid rather than water.