does rain help melt snow

Does rain help melt snow?  Both snow and rain play a big part in keeping the Earth’s hydrological cycle going. But, does rain help snow melt?

It is natural to ask this question considering rain is directly connected to warmer temperatures.

Getting a better understanding of the impact of rain on snowmelt helps learn about its effects on water resources.

So, is it really possible? And if it is, how much does rain melt snow?

Yes, the rain does help melt snow but its impact depends heavily on various factors, including intensity, temperature, and duration of the rain. 

Does Rain Help Melt Snow?

can rain cause snow to melt

Indeed, rain has the capability to occasionally cause the melting of snow. But, sometimes, the answer varies based on different factors.

In the event that the temperature stays above freezing, specifically above 32F, the precipitation will cause the snow to melt.

But, if the temperature falls below freezing, specifically below 32F, the snow will not undergo the process of melting.

Instead, it will form a layer of ice over the existing snow. 

How Fast Can Rain Melt Snow?

how fast can rain melt snow

It usually depends on the temperatures outside, but here is a bit to help you get an idea:

TemperatureRain Melt
At 40 degreesHalf an inch of snow per day
At 42 degreesUp to 4 inches in a couple of days
At 50 degreesMore than 4 inches

How Does Rain Help Melt Snow?

how does rain melt snow

When precipitation descends upon a surface covered in a layer of frozen water particles, it sets in motion a multifaceted sequence of events.

Let’s talk about some ways rain can melt snow:

Energy Transfer

The transfer of energy from rain to the layer of snow through latent heat is a fundamental process in the melting of snow.

When raindrops descend onto the frigid snow surface, they transport thermal energy as a result of their elevated temperature.

As soon as rainwater makes contact with the snow, the heat energy is transferred to the snowpack.

Consequently, the temperature of the snow surface rises, triggering the onset of melting. 

How Does the Process Happen?

how does the process happen

The energy transfer process happens when rainwater transforms from a liquid to a solid state. It is commonly referred to as the water’s phase transition.

During this phase transition, the release of latent heat of fusion occurs.

This supplies the required energy to surpass the connections between the snow particles and disrupts the solid arrangement. As a consequence, the snow undergoes a transformation into liquid water. 

The Role of Temperature Difference in Energy Transfer

role of temperature difference in energy transfer

The temperature contrast between the rainwater and the surface of the snowpack greatly influences the efficiency of this energy transfer.

In the case of warmer rainwater, it has the ability to transfer a greater amount of heat energy to the snow.

This results in an accelerated and more significant process of snowmelt.

On the other hand, colder rainwater might exert a reduced influence on the process of snow melting.

Fact: Accurate snowmelt modeling, hydrological predictions, and water resource management heavily rely on comprehending the dynamics of energy transfer between rainfall and snow.   

Heat Conduction

heat conduction

The process of melting snowpack is greatly influenced by the phenomenon of heat conduction.

When raindrops make contact with the surface of the snow, they transfer heat to the snowpack by directly interacting with the individual snow grains.

As the rainwater, which is warmer, comes into contact with the snow grains, it transfers its heat energy to them.

This causes the temperature of the entire snowpack to rise. 

The Process of Heat Conduction

The phenomenon of heat conduction entails the movement of thermal energy from regions with elevated temperatures (the rainwater) to regions with lower temperatures (the snowpack).

When rainwater seeps into the snowpack, it disperses and interacts with a larger quantity of snow particles.

the process of heat conduction

This particular contact enables the transfer of heat from the rainwater to the nearby snow particles.

The distribution of energy within the snowpack is facilitated by the conduction of heat.

This aids in transferring the energy from rainwater to deeper layers of the snowpack.

The heat that is conducted increases the temperature of the nearby snow particles, causing them to melt both on the surface of the snow and within the snowpack.

An Important Consideration

Integrating the influence of heat conduction into models for snowmelt, as well as hydrological simulations is important. 

Through this, it becomes possible to make more precise forecasts regarding water availability and the overall consequences of rainfall in areas where snow is prevalent.

Fact: As the snowpack becomes more conductive and the temperature difference increases, the efficiency of heat transfer and subsequent snow melting also increases.  

Rainwater Infiltration

rainwater infiltration

The penetration of rainwater into the snowpack is a notable factor that expedites the process of snow melting.

When rain descends upon a moist and compressed accumulation of snow, there is the possibility for it to permeate the layers of snow instead of merely flowing off the top.

The infiltration of rainwater helps distribute extra moisture within the snowpack, aiding in the progression of the melting process.

The infiltrated liquid serves as a channel for thermal exchange, efficiently dispersing warmth further into the accumulation of snow. 

Factors Affecting Rainwater Infiltration

factors affecting rainwater infiltration

The amount of rainwater that can seep into the ground is influenced by a range of factors.

These factors include:

  • The properties of the snowpack, such as how porous, dense, and water-filled it is
  • The intensity and duration of the rainfall
  • The snow layers’ ability to let water pass through

Wet and compressed snowpacks are susceptible to rainwater infiltration because they possess a greater capacity to hold water and fewer air pockets, which restrict the penetration of water.

Fact: The widespread moisture encourages faster heat transfer within the snowpack, resulting in increased rates of snowmelt and expedited depletion of the snowpack. 

Albedo Reduction

albedo reduction

The influence of precipitation on the melting of snow extends beyond just the direct transfer of heat and infiltration mechanisms.

Precipitation additionally contributes to altering the surface reflectance, referred to as albedo, of the snow cover.

When precipitation in the form of rain comes into contact with the snow surface, it possesses the ability to diminish the quantity of snow through the processes of melting or compression.

Consequently, the revealed underlying surfaces, like earth or plants, become apparent.

The significant impact of rainfall on albedo is evident as it modifies the snow’s capacity to reflect sunlight, which determines how fast snow melts.

Fact: Rainfall-induced surface melting may potentially expedite the movement of glaciers, leading to a greater discharge of ice into the ocean. 

The Significance of the Albedo Effect

the significance of the albedo effect

Newly fallen snow possesses a significant albedo, which implies that it has the ability to reflect a substantial amount of solar radiation back into the atmosphere.

This aids in sustaining reduced surface temperatures and decelerates the process of snow melting.

Nevertheless, as precipitation decreases, the snow layer diminishes, revealing darker surfaces that possess a lower albedo.

Surfaces that are darker in color, like soil or vegetation, tend to reflect less light and absorb more solar radiation.

As a result, when the snowpack’s albedo decreases due to rain-induced snow reduction, the darker surfaces absorb a greater amount of solar radiation.

The extra absorption of solar radiation enhances the energy available for melting the remaining snow, thus hastening the overall snowmelt process. 

The Effect of Wintertime Rain

the effect of wintertime rain

 The rain during the winter season may result in additional long-term effects.

Winter rain can cause the snow to melt. Although it may refreeze rapidly, the snow that has been rained on develops a hardened surface.

It now absorbs sunlight more effectively compared to newly fallen powder.

Due to the accumulation of numerous layers in the snowpack over the years, the melting process is expedited when it comes into contact with sunlight during the summer.

These systems can lead to big changes, especially considering the ice in Greenland, which can melt and result in 7 meters rise in sea levels. 

An Important Consideration
an important consideration

The albedo effect and its influence on snowmelt relies on multiple factors, such as:

  • The strength and length of the precipitation occurrence
  • The original albedo of the snow layer
  • The properties of the surfaces beneath.
Fact: More intense rainfall events that lead to a significant reduction in snowfall can cause a notable decrease in albedo, which in turn speeds up the melting of snow. 


Does rain help melt snow? Turns out, yes it can. But, of course, many factors are at play because the rain melts snow through various mechanisms.

Some of them include heat conduction, energy transfer, and albedo effect.

Learning about these factors and the impact of rain on snow can help us understand more about managing flood risks, water resources, and ecological dynamics in different regions.