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I am asking this question intrigued by the fact that in certain religious books (mostly Arabic) it is stated that rain and hail comes from the sky (heaven) and not from Earth. They probably did not know that rain and hail comes from clouds. My question is when did many understand this fact?

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    After looking it over, I'm not convinced that there is even today a "science of hail". Kind of surprising, considering the damage it does in my part of the USA.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 22, 2012 at 20:05
  • @T.E.D. I am also interesting in old age explanation of it :)
    – TheTechGuy
    Aug 22, 2012 at 20:11
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    Note: I did the google search, and this is not a trivial question. Congratulations on a surprisingly interesting question.
    – MCW
    Sep 13, 2017 at 1:28
  • regarding a recent edit, "What were some" questions are problematic.... Sep 14, 2017 at 4:35
  • 1
    @AaronBrick ok edited.
    – TheTechGuy
    Sep 14, 2017 at 18:41

2 Answers 2

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I have seen a lot of rain and a bit of hail, and it almost always came from above, i.e. from the sky. Indeed, my country's official meteorological agency agrees that rain and hail really come from the sky or maybe from heaven ("Himmel" in German can mean both).

Aristotle had already figured out most of the physics of rain before 322 BCE. His works were translated into Arabic by about 800 CE and into Latin (again?) in the 12th century.

Given that the formation of (thin) fog from warm water is easily observable in many kitchens and bathrooms, and that the formation of drizzle and rain from fog and clouds is easily observable when taking a walk on a rainy day in the mountains, Aristotle may have been not the first to reach such conclusions.

Aristotle's main problem in his explanation of rain seems to have been his (lack of) understanding of chemistry, but the physics are quite sound. Clouds are some form of condensated water, water evaporates when it is warm and condensates to clouds when it is colder. When it gets even colder, the clouds will start to rain. The whole thing is a cycle.

The exhalation of water is vapour: air condensing into water is cloud. Mist is what is left over when a cloud condenses into water, and is therefore rather a sign of fine weather than of rain; for mist might be called a barren cloud. So we get a circular process that follows the course of the sun. For according as the sun moves to this side or that, the moisture in this process rises or falls. We must think of it as a river flowing up and down in a circle and made up partly of air, partly of water. When the sun is near, the stream of vapour flows upwards; when it recedes, the stream of water flows down: and the order of sequence, at all events, in this process always remains the same. So if ‘Oceanus’ had some secret meaning in early writers, perhaps they may have meant this river that flows in a circle about the earth.

So the moisture is always raised by the heat and descends to the earth again when it gets cold. These processes and, in some cases, their varieties are distinguished by special names. When the water falls in small drops it is called a drizzle; when the drops are larger it is rain.

His explanation of hail, however, explicitely rejects a theory (by Anaxagoras) which is closer to our current understanding, because (paraphrasing) "hailstones are not round". However, Aristotle's discussion of a theory which he rejects also shows us that already back then an explanation for hail existed which is somewhat similar to our modern understanding: Hailstones can be formed when the clouds reach up into cold regions of the atmosphere.

Some think that the cause and origin of hail is this. The cloud is thrust up into the upper atmosphere, which is colder because the reflection of the sun’s rays from the earth ceases there, and upon its arrival there the water freezes. They think that this explains why hailstorms are commoner in summer and in warm countries; the heat is greater and it thrusts the clouds further up from the earth. But the fact is that hail does not occur at all at a great height: yet it ought to do so, on their theory, just as we see that snow falls most on high mountains. Again clouds have often been observed moving with a great noise close to the earth, terrifying those who heard and saw them as portents of some catastrophe. Sometimes, too, when such clouds have been seen, without any noise, there follows a violent hailstorm, and the stones are of incredible size, and angular in shape. This shows that they have not been falling for long and that they were frozen near to the earth, and not as that theory would have it. Moreover, where the hailstones are large, the cause of their freezing must be present in the highest degree: for hail is ice as every one can see. Now those hailstones are large which are angular in shape. And this shows that they froze close to the earth, for those that fall far are worn away by the length of their fall and become round and smaller in size.

It clearly follows that the congelation does not take place because the cloud is thrust up into the cold upper region.

(source)

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  • Even if in danger of ruining a possible joke via explanation: when in your experience did hail not come from above? When in a plane yourself flying thru some clouds? Jul 17, 2022 at 12:38
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    @LangLangC when having rain together with 80 km/h winds. At that time rhe rain was moving quite horizontally. Snow is quite similar and can even be observed to.move upwards. When walking through clouds in the Alps, I also sometimes got the feeling that the drops are just coming from all sides.
    – Jan
    Jul 17, 2022 at 17:32
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In the Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance in Europe, hail, like lightning and other severe weather phenomenon, was thought to be caused by demons in the air. Sad, but true.

From Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Rain and winds, and whatsoever occurs by local impulse alone, can be caused by demons. It is a dogma of faith that the demons can produce winds, storms, and rain of fire from heaven 1,2

For this reason, whenever severe weather threatened, the best response was thought to be to ring the church bells or fire cannons to frighten off the demons. Sprinkling of Holy water, praying, and other such liturgical remedies were also done to try to drive the demons away.

These days some folks try cloud seeding with silver iodide. Sadly, there isn't a whole lot of evidence this works any better than the cannons and holy water.


1 See Thomas Aquinas, "Summa," pars I, qu. lxxx, art. 2, cited by Maury, "Légendes Pieuses," 11. The second citation I owe to Rydberg, "Magic of the Middle Ages," 73, where the whole interesting passage is given at length.

2 Memoryhole

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    Where in the Summa can that be found?
    – Nacib Neme
    Jan 10, 2020 at 20:54
  • Also, that merely says that they can be produced by demons, not that the demons are the sole cause. Arsenic in springs can be put there by malice, but can also occur naturally.
    – Mary
    Jul 15, 2022 at 2:02
  • @Mary - If the point of this comment was to induce me to argue for the logic of this point of view, I'm afraid you're going to be sorely disappointed.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 15, 2022 at 13:35
  • Its point was to rebut your claim, not theirs
    – Mary
    Jul 15, 2022 at 22:46
  • @Mary - Pretty sure I never made any such assertion. If I did (and I'm somehow not seeing it) you are correct that its nonsense.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 16, 2022 at 2:29

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