In part 2 of our weather series, let’s learn some more advanced ways to describe the weather in English!!

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Last week I released an episode introducing you to some advanced vocabulary, specific terms, and useful phrases to describe the weather. I covered alternatives, or you could say improvements, to commonly used words ‘hot,’ ‘cold,’ ‘sunny,’ and ‘cloudy’!  Make sure to listen to that episode if you haven’t already – I’ll of course link it in the description of the podcast and also on my blog! I also talked about why it is important to learn more advanced ways to describe weather conditions, so I’ll skip that part today!

This episode will look at more nuanced descriptions of, or alternatives to, rainy, windy, snowy, and finally look at a few other less common types of weather! As always, if you have any questions or suggestions you can reach out to me on Instagram (I reply to everyone!!) – why not try to describe the weather in your hometown this weekend using some of the vocabulary you will learn today? 

Ok, that’s enough of an introduction… Let’s get right into the episode!  


I think a good place to start today would be alternatives to rainy! Precipitation is often used as a more formal and scientific way to describe rain. Technically, precipitation is anything that falls from the sky… rain, snow, sleet, hail, etc – but as rain is generally the most common in that category we often use precipitation as a synonym for rain. Meteorologists (the scientists who predict the weather) and weather forecasts will often try to determine the probability of precipitation!

Rain is a relatively generic term – there is no one type of rain. Of course, it is all water falling from the sky, but how much water, at what speed, what size of the water droplets? Well, we can use different terms here to help us be more specific. Let’s start from the smallest to the largest amounts of rain. Sometimes, the rain is so light that you barely notice it. In this case, we can say there is just a drop of rain. If there is a drop of rain, you will only feel a few drops of water from the sky.  

The next step up would be drizzle. English speakers will use both drizzle and drizzling to describe this type of rain. Drizzle is basically very light rain falling in very fine drops. If you visit the UK, it is quite likely you will experience drizzle. If it starts to drizzle you need to make the decision over whether to take an umbrella or your jacket is good enough.  Another noun to describe relatively light rain is shower. A shower is a brief and usually light fall of rain (or other type of precipitation). Showers is often used in weather forecasts, and in conjunction with the adjective scattered. For example, “tomorrow will be a day of sunny spells and scattered showers.”

Let’s get heavier with the rain. In fact, that is a perfectly good phrase, heavy rain. Light and heavy are the most common ways to describe rain. If it suddenly starts to rain a lot, and rain heavily, then we can use the idiom the heavens opened. As in, “while I was out shopping the heavens opened and I got very wet.” You can also say it is pouring. When this verb is used to describe the weather, to pour is to mean that it is raining heavily. If it is pouring outside, you’d better take an umbrella with you! Although there are many ways to describe the rain, I think the term I’ll introduce you to is the idiom raining cats and dogs. You may have heard this before – it is a very famous idiom – and basically means to rain heavily. And finally, when it rains you get wet. Or, you can say damp, soaked, drenched, dripping, soggy – they all mean wet!  


That’s enough about the rain. Let’s move on to windy weather. Actually, this is by far my least favourite weather… especially if it is chilly outside. Direct synonyms for windy include breezy, blustery, and gusty. A breeze is a light and pleasant wind – the kind you get on a warm summer day. So, if the weather is breezy  then the wind outside is relatively gentle. A gust is a sudden strong wind – stronger than the average wind of the day. Once, while I was traveling to an island off the coast of Japan, a sudden gust of wind blew my umbrella away. A blustery day has strong winds. 

The next few words are connected to wind, but they probably more accurately refer to storms. However, we often use these when it comes to talking about wind speeds and such, so I think they fit nicely in this section. A tornado is a strong, dangerous wind that forms itself into an upside-down spinning cone and is able to destroy buildings as it moves. If you’ve seen the Wizard of Oz, I’m sure you know what a tornado is! The next fact may surprise you: cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are all the same type of windy storm, forming in different parts of the world. Hurricanes are tropical storms that form over the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeast Pacific; Typhoons are tropical storms that form over the Northwest Pacific Ocean; and cyclones are storms that are formed over the South Pacific and Indian Ocean! 


Snow is certainly the type of weather I know the least about – we don’t get much snow in the villages of England. Languages from cultures in the far north of the world, such as the Inuit of modern day Greenland or the Sami of modern day Finland, have hundreds of ways to describe snow. While English doesn’t have so much, there are some useful words you should know. Actually, many of the words i already introduced about rain can be used for snow – snowy spells, precipitation, light snow, heavy snow, snow showers. 

Snowflakes are the individual pieces of snow that fall from the sky. It is said that every snowflake is unique… but I’m not actually sure if that is true. A flurry of snow, or a snow flurry, is a swirling mass of snow caused by sudden gusts of wind. A blizzard is a blinding storm of wind and snow – blizzards can create dangerous conditions for people driving on the road. And I’m sure you can guess that a snowstorm is a storm made of snow. 

Two other terms I think are important to learn are sleet and slush. Sleet is what happens when snow melts as it falls. In a nutshell, sleet is rain with a bit of ice in it. Sleet is a horrible type of weather: it is cold, uncomfortable, and doesn’t have the satisfaction of snow. Slush is also used to describe when snow melts. However, slush is once it has already fallen and landed on the ground. If you come from a snowy place, you know what I’m talking about – the wet, icy snow that appears as the snow of the ground begins to melt.

Finally, let me introduce a few other weather related terms that are less common, but still important! How about mist, fog, haze and smog? Mist is a cloud of tiny water droplets near the planet’s surface that makes it difficult to see. In essence, it is like the clouds have descended from the sky. Fog is basically the same thing – however it is even thicker, and more difficult to see. Haze also makes it difficult to see due to particles in the air – often caused by heat or smoke. Smog is air pollution caused by smoke or chemicals mixing with fog, mist, or haze. 

Hail are small, hard balls of ice that fall from the sky. They can also be called hailstone, and used as a verb – as in “it started to hail while I was walking to work.” I actually already mentioned the term storm earlier, but I didn’t define it for you. A storm is a powerful disturbance of the atmosphere that causes strong wind, rain, thunder, lighting, snow, or hail! There can be lots of different types of storm: thunder storms, electrical storms, snow storms, rain storms, hurricanes, cyclones, etc. English learners often confuse thunder and lightning. Thunder is a sound – the loud rumbling or crashing noise heard shortly after a lightning flash. Lightning is the electrical bolt that shoots between the clouds and ground, causing a very bright flash. 

Final Thought

In part 1 of my advanced weather vocabulary I introduced alternatives to hot, cold, sunny, and cloudy. Today, I gave you options instead of rainy, snowy, windy, as well as introducing some less common weather types. I hope you found these episodes interesting, and make sure you use these terms the next time you need to describe the weather. 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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