It’s true – some people really can smell when it’s going to rain

Some people are able to tell if it’s going to rain simply by noticing a change in the smell of the open air, scientists have found.

The scent of fresh rain after the event is unmistakable to most of us. But the claim that it’s possible to smell rain before its arrival has divided opinion in the past. However, experts in the field say that there is some evidence to support the claims.

Amazingly, the human ability to “sniff out” forthcoming wet weather is not unconnected with the ability of sharks to detect blood in the sea, even from several miles away.

According to the fun-science based website IFL Science, it’s all to do with petrichor, a word that means a familiar, oddly satisfying scent released by the ground after heavy rain, particularly after a long dry spell.

Until recently experts were unsure why petrichor was to many people such a pleasant odour. But three years ago scientists found that some animals, too, found the smell particularly attractive.

They found that Streptomyces, a common soil bacterium, produces geosmin, which releases the just-rained odour some people adore. And it turns out that human noses are very good at detecting tiny trace amounts of geosmin to the extent that in some people it outperforms the ability of sharks to detect blood in the water.

So what is actually happening is that the scent of rain that has fallen elsewhere can be carried in the air for miles, even before the rain-producing clouds are seen looming on the horizon. And it is because, in order to survive, the bacteria that produce geosmin do it to attract organisms into the soil, which in turn helps spread the bacteria further.

IFL Science also documented another source of smell that affects us — the chemical ozone, which has a distinct smell, sweeter than that of petrichor. And it’s this particular scent that often foretells the coming of stormy weather.

It happens is because ozone gas pockets are kept at ground level by breezes in any approaching storm, meaning they will be at nose-level and ready to be detected by people in the open.

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