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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/97

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A GREAT many theories have been invented to explain the formation of rain, some of which are remarkable chiefly for their absurdity or their complexity. Even most of the scientific theories depend too largely on hypotheses and are not sufficiently supported by facts. There are, however, some which are as a whole established on authentic observations, and, although they are still incomplete, they do not, like some of the speculations, contradict facts that are observed every day. For more than thirty years I have studied professionally and because I had a taste for it all the atmospheric phenomena which came before me. Several times I have been so fortunate as to witness, at Clermont, or on the top of the Puy-de-Dôme, the genesis or development of heavy showers, and have fancied that I have detected some of the details or secrets of their formation. In a pamphlet on this subject, which I published in 1885, I expounded the ideas which a large number of observations on fog, drizzle, mist, rain, snow, sleet, and hail had suggested to me; and by means of some of these ideas, the resultant of facts observed hundreds of times, I hope to be able to explain the formation of rain.

First, I must say that heat, and especially moisture, do not vary in the lower part of the atmosphere in the way it was long thought. At extreme altitudes the temperature of the air is very low, but the cold does not increase regularly as we rise, and the same is the case with the moisture. In high ascensions, or while sailing almost horizontal courses, aëronauts traverse atmospheric regions alternately warm and cold, dry and moist. Such anomalies present themselves even near the surface. There are between eighty and a hundred days every year in which a higher temperature is registered for a greater or less length of time on the Puy-de-Dôme than at Clermont. Sometimes the difference is very great. Thus, on the 26th of December, 1879, the temperature was -16° C. at Clermont, while on the summit of the Puy-de-Dôme the thermometer marked +5° C, showing a difference of 21° in favor of the top of the mountain. Differences of temperature of this kind occur everywhere. The moisture of the air varies in the same way through the atmosphere. In ascending or descending a few hundred metres, the hygrometer may be observed to pass from dryness to saturation. At the altitude of the Puy-de--

  1. An address before the Society of Horticulture and Viticulture at Clermont-Ferrand.