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EarthSky // Earth, Science Wire Release Date: Jul 17, 2015

What is virga?

We’ve all seen virga, but maybe not known what it’s called. Virga is rain that evaporates before it hits the ground. Enjoy these photos!

Timothy Busch caught this virga at sunset in New Mexico.

Timothy Busch caught this virga at sunset in New Mexico.

Virga often appears in streaks or shafts extending from the bottoms of clouds. You often see virga over a desert, where low humidity and high temperatures can cause rain to evaporate shortly after being released by clouds. Or you might see virga at high altitudes; in fact, the precipitation often starts out in the form of ice crystals. Virga is commonly seen in the U.S. West and above the Canadian Prairies, in the Middle East, Australia and North Africa. At some northerly latitudes, too – as in the photos from Sweden on this page – virga sometimes paints the sky above.

The word virga is derived from Latin meaning “twig” or “branch”.

It’s an especially dramatic sight at sunrise or sunset.

The photos on this page are from EarthSky friends on Facebook. Enjoy, and share your pics with us on Facebook or submit them here.

Virga over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 15, 2015 submitted to EarthSky by Helio de Carvalho Vital.

Virga over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 15, 2015 submitted to EarthSky by Helio de Carvalho Vital.

Susan Jensen captured this image of virga in eastern Washington.

Susan Jensen captured this image of virga in eastern Washington.

Jill Whamond wrote in August 2014,

Jill Whamond wrote in August 2014, “Just caught the edge of this front off the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The rain was unbelievable. Calgary, Alberta,Canada.”

Birgit Boden captured virga during a midnight sunset in the month of June, from northern Sweden.

Birgit Boden captured virga during a midnight sunset in the month of June, from northern Sweden.

Ron Ratliff caught this virga near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Ron Ratliff caught this virga near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Virga over Montana, by Jessica Gutliph Karr.

Virga over Montana, by Jessica Gutliph Karr.

Virga over west Texas by Deborah Byrd.

Virga over west Texas by Deborah Byrd.

Virga over Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by Beth Katz.

Virga over Lancaster County, Pennsylvania by Beth Katz.

Virga over Sweden in the month of April, by Jorgen Norrland Andersson.

Virga over snow, in Sweden in the month of April, by Jorgen Norrland Andersson.

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Bottom line: Virga is rain that evaporates before it reaches the ground. It appears in streaks or shafts extending from the bottoms of clouds. You often see virga over a desert, where low humidity and high temperatures can cause rain to evaporate high in the sky.