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News / City Life

You know that amazing rain smell? There's a word for it.

You know that amazing rain smell? There's a word for it.
Photograph by Kent Wang

We Angelenos are pretty lucky when it comes to smells (and also in general, but that's a different post). We've got ocean breeze, fresh mountain pine and year-round flowers like wild lavender and night-blooming jasmine. Sun-warmed skin, fresh-squeezed citrus... we could go on and on. But there's one scent we don't get nearly enough of—especially in this drought. It's that lovely, crisp, earthy smell that fills the air during a rain shower, multiplying a dried-up city's gratitude for precipitation tenfold. You know the one. Turns out there's a name for it: Petrichor.

Petrichor is a noun defined as "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather." A long period of warm, dry weather? Yeah, we have those. Which might be why LA petrichor smells especially sweet. But it could also be our biodiversity: Turns out certain plants secrete oils during dry spells—when it rains, these fragrant oils are dispersed into the air. Same goes for chemicals produced by bacteria and minerals in the soil, which may account for the earthy side of the scent. And those new-age weirdos who say they can smell rain coming? Turns out they probably can, when petrichor in the air is blown toward a part of town that hasn't been showered yet.

So the next time someone mentions that enchanting, wet-pavement, fresh-rain smell, shower them with knowledge and spread the word—literally.

 

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