Caustic activation of rain showers

Wilkinson, Michael; Mehlig, Bernhard and Bezuglyy, Vlad (2006). Caustic activation of rain showers. Physical Review Letters, 97 048501.



We show quantitatively how the collision rate of droplets of visible moisture in turbulent air increases very abruptly as the intensity of the turbulence passes a threshold, due to the formation of fold caustics in their velocity field. The formation of caustics is an activated process, in which a measure of the intensity of the turbulence, termed the Stokes number St, is analogous to temperature in a chemical reaction: the rate of collision contains a factor exp(-C/St). Our results are relevant to the long-standing problem of explaining the rapid onset of rainfall from convecting clouds. Our theory does not involve spatial clustering of particles.

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