New website allows users to track mesmerizing journey of a raindrop

By Zachary Rosenthal,
Rain clouds pass over the Manhattan skyline in New York City on Thursday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 5 | Rain clouds pass over the Manhattan skyline in New York City on Thursday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 2 -- A Pittsburgh web developer has made a website that allows anyone to trace the path of a raindrop that falls in the contiguous United States from when it lands on the ground to its final destination and everything in between.

Sam Learner, who created the website River Runner, was interviewed by AccuWeather Meteorologist Adam Del Rosso on AccuWeather Prime.


Learner created the website after thinking about the Continental Divide, which travels up through the Rocky Mountains and splits the United States into two separate watersheds -- one that leads to the Pacific Ocean and one that leads to the Atlantic Ocean.

The above clip shows River Runner tracing the path of a raindrop in David, W.Va.

"I've driven through [the Continental Divide] and I thought the process of watching a raindrop fall on one end and end up in the Atlantic Ocean, or fall on the other end and end up thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean would be really interesting to visualize," Learner told Del Rosso.

Learner got to work coding his tool, using United States Geological Survey data to map the entire continental United States. Thanks to readily available USGS data, which had largely mapped how bodies of water flow into each other, the project took just two weeks to complete.


The website allows the user to click anywhere on the map and drop a raindrop. The program then calculates the exact route it will take as the raindrop goes through small streams, creeks and rivers on its way to bigger bodies of water like lakes, bays and oceans.

Viewers then get a 3D flyover of the raindrop's journey as it travels down a maze of waterways to its final destination.

Learner's favorite place to simulate a raindrop might come as a surprise to some.

"I think Wyoming and Montana are really interesting," Learner said. "A raindrop from northern Wyoming, depending on what end of the state you're in, can travel up a little bit and then all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico."

A bicyclist rides over the Continental Divide in Colorado. File Photo by David R. O'Connor/UPI

Learner told Del Rosso that many educators have reached out to him, saying that his website has helped them explain the concept of watersheds and the importance of keeping them clean.

"People have found it to be a helpful tool in understanding how we take care of our watersheds," Learner said.

"The idea that what we put in or take out of a river or creek nearby us, affects everyone downstream of us, really resonates with people when they're watching that whole downstream path."


The positive feedback has inspired Learner to continue working on improving River Runner. Learner's biggest project: expanding River Runner to cover the entire world. He hopes to have that project finished in the next few months.

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