18 weather words you might not know, from drizzle to smog

  • Here's a guide to some weather words you might not have seen before, like precipitation or mist
  • How many of these phenomenons have you experienced?  
Susan Ramsay |

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Take a look at these weather-related words you might not be familiar with!

We have had a lot of thunder, grey skies and red rain warnings and thunderstorms in Hong Kong lately. But this is not very alarming. They are perfectly normal for this time of year.

But if you want to read weather reports from other places, here are 18 weather words you might not know, and what they mean.


Precipitation [pre-sip-ee-tay-shun]
Water that falls from the sky in the form of rain, snow or hail.
In use: There is a 40 per cent chance of precipitation this weekend, so we’ll be taking a risk if we go camping.

Dew [dee-oo]
Water droplets that form overnight on plants.
In use: As the sun rose, its rays made the dew on the grass sparkle like diamonds.

10 complicated words you should add to your vocabulary

Drizzle [driz-ul]
A very light rain that gives a sprinkle of water. 
In use:  My hair is really frizzy, even the slightest drizzle drives it wild.

Frost/hoarfrost [hor-frost]/rime
Frost is ice that forms because the air is cold. Hoarfrost and rime are very similar. They are white and feathery, and attached to something like a tree or fence. 
Hoarfrost is extremely delicate and forms when cold air skips the water stage and goes straight to ice. Rime ice forms in freezing wind, and you would recognise it as the ice you see on Christmas trees.
In use: Hoarfrost or rime make a perfect picture against a blue sky, so tourists will go in search of it for their perfect Instagram shot.

Mist vs fog
Mist happens when tiny water droplets hang around in the air. We see mist when warm, damp air is suddenly cooled. Fog looks similar, but is much thicker and harder to see through. 
In use: Driving in the mist can be quite dangerous because drivers struggle to see.

We're getting cold just looking at this frost!


Breeze [rhymes with trees]
A very light wind.
In use: It was a bright day with a light breeze so we decided to go for a picnic.

A sudden, strong blast of wind. Wind never travels at one speed, but becomes faster or slower. 
In use: The sudden gust of wind blew my hat off my head, and into a tree.

A sudden blast of wind that lasts for more than a few minutes, especially one that brings rain or sleet.
In use: The weather yesterday was so strange, with both heavy rain squalls and sun.

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Luckily, we don’t get tornadoes in Hong Kong, but we have been known to have waterspouts. Tornadoes are extremely destructive, spinning winds that form in clouds during a storm. As they become more powerful, a “funnel” forms from the cloud that reaches towards the ground. 
In use: A waterspout formed over the harbour near Tsim Sha Tsui today.

Typhoon vs hurricane
They are the same thing: a large, slow-moving storm system with high winds and lots of rain. They can both cause a lot of destruction.
In use: Typhoon Mangkhut hit the city in 2018, making buildings sway in the strong winds.

Blizzard [bliz-ud]
We won’t be getting a blizzard in Hong Kong very soon – not the natural kind anyway. A blizzard is a strong snowstorm. But the word can also be used to describe other things, such as when a large, overwhelming number of things happen suddenly.
In use: I dealt with a blizzard of emails today.

We're pretty happy it doesn't snow in Hong Kong.

Other words

Smog/haze [rhymes with “days”]
Dirty air caused by pollution. We get this often in winter. These conditions are caused by a “temperature inversion”, a cell of high-pressure air trapping pollution below it. Usually wind will blow pollution away, but sometimes it cannot.
In use: The smog was so heavy today we could barely see across the harbour.

Take a look at these English words borrowed from other languages

Air travels around us in “masses” or “cells”. Where the two masses meet there is usually a sharp change in temperature, and the resulting weather. A cold front will bring a sharp drop in temperatures. A warm front will bring a rise in temperature. Because of the changes at these fronts, there is often a lot of wind, and storms.
In use: Storms are expected all across Australia as a cold front moves in from the south.

The “th” sound in “weather” can be hard to say. Practise by putting your finger just in front of your mouth. Put your tongue behind your upper teeth, and blow so that you can feel your breath on your finger. Then make a sound with your voice. 

Next, try this tongue twister:  Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot, We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not!

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