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I heard the phrase "a pop-up shower" in a weather broadcasting on the radio. If I understand correctly, it means a shower might come out of nowhere anytime in the day. But I'm not sure if my understanding is correct.

My questions are whether "a pop-up shower" is a common phrase and what it means exactly? Or I simply misheard it and it should be something else?

  • A Google search for "pop-up shower" (with the quotes) suggests that it is a mainly US expression for a short shower. – Michael Harvey Aug 1 '19 at 12:28
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    BrE - I have never heard of that phrase, but, from the definition of pop-up I would interpret the same way – Bee Aug 1 '19 at 12:40
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    @MichaelHarvey Not so much a US expression as an "impromptu" expression used to sound foiksy. – Andrew Aug 1 '19 at 15:33
  • @Andrew - The phrase is becoming common enough in US weather forecasts that I don't really see it as all that much of an "impromptu" expression. – J.R. Aug 1 '19 at 16:01
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According to Macmillan, pop up is a phrasal verb that means:

pop up (phrasal verb) to appear very quickly or suddenly

It can also be used as an adjective. On another Macmillan page, we find:

pop up computing (adj.) used for describing something that appears suddenly on a computer screen : a pop-up menu

By extension, then, a pop-up shower is a rain shower that appears very quickly without warning. Normally, pop-up showers don't last very long; which is something covered by another definition of pop-up:

pop-up (adj.) Intended to remain open for business only temporarily : The site has been home to many pop-up exhibits and stores

If your weather forecasts says there is a chance of pop-up showers, that means a very brief spell of rain might arrive even when the skies are still blue.

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As the other answer indicates, "pop-up" means something along the lines of "surprise" or "unexpected". However be aware that this adjective is not normally applied to things like weather, so it sounds like the weather person is trying to be clever, or is making a joke.

It's easy to understand the meaning of the expression, but the nuance makes it a kind of casual, almost neighborly, to sound like the broadcast is talking to us person-to-person rather than in a serious, factual manner. Weather reports often go for this kind of relaxed attitude, as a contrast with the (often) more formal "regular" news.

A common way to express the same thing, but in a more formal way, is to call these "intermittent showers".

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  • The term intermittent showers is indeed often used by forecasters to describe on-again, off-again rain. But if you think folks are unlikely to see more than one rain shower on a given day, that term might be misleading, and "a pop-up shower" might be a more accurate way to say it – regardless of any perceived folksy, neighborly feel. – J.R. Aug 1 '19 at 15:57
  • @J.R. "Pop-up showers" implies more than one, though. In any case if it has become popular in weather forecasts, then I'm out of the loop. I stopped listening to those many years ago. Much quicker to open my phone and check the weather app. – Andrew Aug 2 '19 at 0:43

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