Reader sheepnamedpig asks:
I was driving through the rain down the highway when I noticed something strange: though the rain was heavy enough to reduce visibility to a quarter mile, the rear windshield of my Corolla was bone dry except for the streams of water flowing off the roof. There was no wind so far as I could tell, but I had to slow down all the way to ~20-25 mph for rain to start falling on the rear windshield. Why is that?
That’s a wonderful observation! Like many sedans, your Corolla has a long, sloped rear window that acts much like a backward-facing step with respect to the airflow while the car is moving. Note the smoke lines in the photo above. At the front of the car, we see closely spaced intact lines near the hood and windshield, indicating relatively fast, smooth airflow over the front of the vehicle. At the back, though, there is a big gap over the rear windshield. This is because flow over the car has separated at the rear windshield and a pocket of recirculating air. This recirculation zone is, for the most part, isolated from the rest of the air moving over the car; that’s why the smoke lines continue relatively unaffected a little ways above the surface. This same pocket of recirculating air is protecting your rear windshield from rainfall. It’s an area of low-speed, high-pressure fluid, and the raindrops are preferentially carried by the high-speed, low-pressure air over the recirculation zone. This is one reason why many sedans don’t have rear windshield wipers. (Photo credit: F-BDA)
ETA: Reposted by request to make it rebloggable.