A numerical model is proposed that describes the interaction between raindrops and water vapour near the planetary boundary layer to explain the “amount effect”. This model relates the intensity to the isotopic composition of precipitation. The model resolves raindrop sizes, and explicitly includes: (1) the isotopic equilibration time of raindrops that is drop-size dependent; (2) raindrop transit times through the atmosphere; and (3) the evolution of the isotopic composition of vapour at various rain rates. At high rain rate, the precipitation through a layer is less equilibrated with the vapour because the isotopic equilibration time is long compared to the fast transit time, and there is a preponderance of large drops, which take longer to equilibrate. The δ18O of vapour in the lower atmosphere becomes lower as a result of the interaction with these raindrops of low δ18O, and the degree of depletion of 18O is higher when precipitation rates are high. The model reproduces time-series observations of isotopic composition of precipitation in Japan, and a vapour replenishment rate is inferred by either advection or evaporation of about 5% of the precipitation rate. The results could be the basis for a new parameterization of the isotopic equilibration for different precipitation types and rates in General Circulation Models (GCMs). When the model is applied to a GCM, this parameterization is important for places where precipitation occurs at cold temperatures (<15 °C). Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.