EarthHuman World

Virga is rain that doesn’t reach the ground

Waning moon, Venus, virga at dawn, over a mountain silhouette.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | The June 1, 2019 dawn sky – with a waning crescent moon and (to the moon’s left) the planet Venus – and with virga extending down from the clouds. Photo taken by Mike Lewinski. Those are the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Taos, New Mexico. Thanks, Mike!

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. Enjoy, and share your pics with us on Facebook or submit them here.

Rainbow touching horizon, with colored virga to one side.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Here’s an interesting one, a virga rainbow. Hazel Holby in Willows, California captured this image on September 29, 2021. She wrote: “I was so surprised to see this rainbow in the rice fields close to sunset. There had been only a trace amount of rain in this part of northern California for months. Can you tell me how this rainbow managed to form? Thank you and love your site and Facebook page!” Thank you, Hazel! We asked Les Cowley of the website Atmospheric Optics. He’s the world expert of these sorts of sky phenomena. Here’s his response: “This is a broad bow and also of variable width. These suggest that it was made by virga [rain that falls but doesn’t reach the ground] or other very small water droplets in the air. These would not necessarily be seen or felt as rain. The smaller the water drops, the broader the bow. When the drops get down to mist size then we have a fogbow.” Thank you, Les!
Jill Whamond captured this virga in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
In Boden in northern Sweden, by Birgit Bodén.
Virga over Golden Open Space, New Mexico on June 1, 2106. . 6:09 pm. Photo via Jay Chapman.
Virga over Golden Open Space, New Mexico. Photo via Jay Chapman.
Timothy Busch caught this virga at sunset in New Mexico.
Timothy Busch caught this virga at sunset in New Mexico.
Susan Jensen captured this image of virga in eastern Washington.
Susan Jensen captured this image of virga in eastern Washington.
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. Photo via Jessica Gutliph Karr.
Virga over west Texas by Deborah Byrd.
Virga over west Texas. Photo via Deborah Byrd.
Virga over Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Photo via Beth Katz.
Virga over Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Photo via Beth Katz.
Virga over Sweden in the month of April, by Jorgen Norrland Andersson.
Virga over Sweden in the month of April. Photo via Jorgen Norrland Andersson.

Enjoying EarthSky? Sign up for our free daily newsletter today!

Bottom line: Photos of virga, rain that evaporates before it reaches the ground.

Posted 
July 6, 2018
 in 
Earth

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Deborah Byrd

View All