Knowledge of the relationship between rainfall intensity and kinetic energy and its variations in time and space is important for erosion prediction. However, between studies considerable variations exist in the reported shape and coefficients of this relationship. Some differences can be explained by methods of measurement and interpretation and sample size, range and bias, while part of the variability corresponds to actual differences in rainfall generating mechanisms. The present paper critically reviews published studies of rainfall intensity and kinetic energy with a view to derive a general predictive equation of an exponential form. The performance of this general equation is compared to that of existing equations using measured rainfall intensity and kinetic energy data for a site in southeastern Australia. It appeared that the energy of individual storms could only be predicted with limited accuracy because of natural variations in rainfall characteristics. By and large, the general equation produced energy estimates that were within 10% of predictions by a range of parameterisations of the exponential model fitted to specific data-sets. Re-calculation of rainfall erosivity factors as obtained by the older and revised USLE approaches does not seem warranted for most locations. However, in regions experiencing strong oceanic influence or at high elevations, overall rainfall energy appears to be considerably lower than predicted by the general or USLE equations. Conversely, data collected at semi-arid to sub-humid locations suggest that rainfall energy may be higher than expected under those conditions. Standardised measurements are needed to evaluate rainfall intensity-kinetic energy relationships for such areas. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.