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Sniffing Out a Summer Storm

Research shows three different scents associated with rain
Related: Earth

Clouds roll in as a storm approaches in Colorado. (AP)

It's a common belief that people can feel a storm approach when their joints get achy. But it's also possible to smell an oncoming storm. As a recent article in Scientific American explains, we experience three unique scents during a typical summer storm pattern.

First, there's the sweet scent of ozone. Prior to a storm, the atmospheric chemical is carried to lower altitudes by a thunderstorm's downdrafts, chemist Louisa Emmons told the magazine. During the actual storm, we smell "odiferous molecules on surfaces" as they're carried into the air, a scent technically known as petrichor. Finally, in the storm's aftermath, there might be a musty odor of geosmin, a metabolic by-product of bacteria or blue-green algae.

Is there a greater purpose to all the scents? It turns out they could be sending messages to animals, like cuing freshwater fish to spawn, or creating associations for humans by triggering a memory. According to psychologist Pamela Dawson, "Although humans don't appear to have innate responses to these odors, we do learn to associate them with our experiences."

Via Adventure Journal


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Man no longer relies on their sense's for survival. So no telling how atavistic man might have used this information. It might have triggered a, get out of the rain response, ya think? Or go to higher ground response, we might never know.

July 21 2012 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can smell the rain long before it gets here.

July 20 2012 at 11:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Billingsley

When my little darling angel Spunkie a Britney spaniel went to heaven she left me her sense of smell because I can smell things I could never smell before and yes rain is one of them.

July 20 2012 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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