Belgium Rain

Why Does It Rain So Much in Belgium?

Philip Lepoutre | February 28, 2019

Before clouds collapse into rain, they can actually reach an incredible mass of 500,000 kg (1.1 million pounds). For perspective, it’s like having 12,500 heavy pianos floating around in the air.

Belgium Rain
© BingoArts

For some, there is nothing better than a rainy day to make you feel so full of joy you want to break out in song and dance as Don Lockwood did in the 1952 film ‘Singin ́ in the Rain’. “I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain, what a glorious feeling and I’m happy again!”

However, movies are not always true to life and many people have a much more difficult relationship with the rain. Belgium has always received heavy rain. In fact, it rains so much in Belgium that hundreds of artists and painters from all around the world come to Belgium to create works of art portraying it. Famous examples include Keiko Tanabe, a Japanese painter who lives in the United States and the world-renowned Leonid Afremov, a master of the palette-knife technique. Not only are they deeply intrigued by Belgian culture but also by its weather that stirs up debates all over the world.

Rain is formed when the energy from sun rays heating the ocean surface cause water to change from a liquid to gas state in a process called evaporation. When the clouds eventually cool down they turn back to a liquid state near dust and other particles. The small droplets then become visible and start to be attracted to other neighbouring molecules, behaving like magnets. As more and more droplets merge together, their combined mass becomes too large and hence falls back down as the rain we know all too well. However, before clouds collapse into rain, they can actually reach an incredible mass of 500,000 kg (1.1 million pounds). But how do clouds manage to support so much weight in the first place, seemingly defying gravity? In fact, even though they have an immense combined weight, this weight is usually spread out over a few kilometres, allowing each cubic meter to weigh less than 1g.

When we look more specifically at Belgian weather, the first indicator, which may explain this bad weather, is Belgium’s location near the North Sea. According to a study by the Royal Belgian Institute of Meteorology in 2019, winds that come from the North to the East of Belgium outnumber any other direction. As these winds pass above the sea, they pick up water molecules from the ocean and become humid.

But, if we look at the average rainfall in Belgium, another question arises: the area with the most rainfall is the Ardennes, despite being located much farther from the ocean than the majority of places in Belgium. Why is that so? This is caused by the fascinating behaviour air masses display when coming in contact with mountainous landscapes. As wind packed with water molecules travels, it picks up more and more molecules as it goes, but when it reaches a large obstacle like a mountain, it is forced to climb up and condense, releasing all of its moisture into the clouds. These clouds will then release the accumulated moisture onto one side of the mountain for the most part. As this happens, the dried-up wind travels to the other side, picking up any moisture that is present.

This behaviour is known as the “Rain Shadow”, an effect first discovered in 1982 by two Argentinian scientists.

The second clue as to why Belgium finds itself under constant rainfall lies in weather maps that reveal the dynamics of our atmosphere. There are very strong currents of air directed to the North Western European continent whose origins lie in the Atlantic Ocean. These strong currents are called “jet streams”. They are very fast flowing air currents, usually at around 15km in altitude, that appear due to the union of two air masses with radically different temperatures. Hence, the larger the temperature difference between the two air masses, the faster the “air river” will flow.

As it turns out, jet streams are not only present on Earth, but also on other planets of our solar system like Jupiter and Saturn. Jet streams are very frequently used by commercial airliners to reduce travel time. By flying in a jet stream, planes travelling from West to East get a significant boost from the tailwind, which saves time and fuel. Conversely, planes flying in the opposite direction lose time and expend more fuel flying against the jet stream so pilots usually adjust their flying altitude to avoid them. But what does this have to do with Belgium’s weather? As jet streams flow from the Pacific to Europe, they bring in warm air, filled with water molecules. As they reach Belgium, they increase the air humidity and hence also increase the chance of rainfall.

So next time you open your umbrella to go outside, look up the raindrops falling and remember that they travelled huge distances just to arrive where you are, travelling through fast moving jet streams from the Atlantic just to end up in clouds where they will spend their last moments, packed with other raindrops, ready to fall as soon as the cloud gets too heavy.

Belgium I | Vivienne Chen

My First Impressions of Belgium

Vivienne Chen December 10, 2020

When I arrived in Belgium for the first time, the first thing that crossed my mind was “I’m finally here, after what felt like decades of travelling by plane.”  

Belgium I | Vivienne Chen
© Vivienne Chen

I come from Taiwan, which is an island country with lots of tropical fruits and a diverse cuisine, and studying abroad has been my dream ever since I was a little kid. I admired other kids who had the opportunity of discovering different cultures and environments outside their home country. Although this is not my first time in Europe, I still can’t truly describe to friends and family back home what Europe is to me and how I feel about it. However, Europe is certainly a continent rich with history, art, and culture. You know you are in Europe, when you can smell bread fresh out of the oven while walking on the street and whenever you step you walk into a fairy tale story with old stone houses arranged closely together, with people walking past you or sitting outside enjoying a drink on a cozy afternoon. 

Belgium is a place full of historical architecture. The moment you step on cobblestone roads and hear the clatter of horse’s hooves hitting the road you realize that you are in Belgium. My arrival in Belgium for the first time was in the late summer, so I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the last moments of sunshine. Since I’m a photographer one of my habits is to walk through all the streets and alleys chasing the changes in sunlight. I like to immerse myself in every instant, to capture every single one of the special little moments that are happening around me. 

Belgium II | Vivienne Chen
A Walk in Belgium © Vivienne Chen

A Walk In Belgium
This photo was taken near Rue des Fripiers. The spotlight in this picture is on the man in yellow as his clothes make him stand out and contrast with the metallic blue colour of the background. From my camera lens it looked like he was slowly walking through his past, and I was fortunate enough to capture this scene.

Belgium III | Vivienne Chen
Manneken Pis © Vivienne Chen

Manneken Pis
This photo was taken near the Manneken Pis, one of Belgium’s most iconic sculptures.

Belgium IV | Vivienne Chen
A Peek © Vivienne Chen

A Peek
While walking past an alley on a clear warm summer day in August, I was able to capture the shadows with sharp distinct shapes over the buildings. Walking further along the winding street led from an area submerged in shadows to another area bathed in sunlight.

Belgium V | Vivienne Chen
Morning of Belgium © Vivienne Chen

Morning of Belgium
This photo was taken near the Gallery. There wasn’t a lot of hustle and bustle on this weekend morning in Brussel but sunlight showered the streets. It was warm and peaceful walking along the street where restaurants were preparing to open for customers.