As water is heated by the sun, surface molecules become sufficiently energized to break free of the attractive force binding them together, and then evaporate and rise as invisible vapour in the atmosphere.
Water vapour is also emitted from plant leaves by a process called transpiration. Everyday an actively growing plant transpires 5 to 10 times as much water as it can hold at once.
As water vapour rises, it cools and eventually condenses, usually on tiny particles of dust in the air. When it condenses, it becomes a liquid again or turns directly into a solid (ice, hail or snow). These water particles then collect and form clouds.
Precipitation in the form of rain, snow and hail comes from clouds. Clouds move around the world, propelled by air currents. For instance, when they rise over mountain ranges, they cool, becoming so saturated with water that it falls as rain, snow or hail, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air.
Excessive rain or snowmelt can produce overland flow to creeks and ditches. Runoff is visible flowing water like rivers, creeks and lakes.
Some of the precipitation and snow melt moves downwards, percolates or infiltrates through cracks, joints and pores in soil and rocks until it reaches the water table where it becomes groundwater.
Subterranean water is held in cracks and pore spaces. Depending on the geology, the groundwater can flow to support streams. It can also be tapped by wells. Some groundwater is very old and may have been there for thousands of years.
The water table is the level at which water stands in a shallow well.