We suggest a non-isothermal one-dimensional model of precipitation scavenging of highly soluble gaseous pollutants in inhomogeneous atmosphere. When gradients of soluble trace gases’ concentrations and temperature in the atmosphere are small, scavenging of gaseous pollutants is governed by two linear wave equations that describe propagation of a scavenging and temperature waves in one direction. If wash-down front velocity is much larger than the velocity of the temperature front, scavenging is determined by propagating scavenging front in the atmosphere with inhomogeneous temperature distribution. We solved the derived equation by the method of characteristics and determined scavenging coefficient and the rates of precipitation scavenging for wet removal of sulfur dioxide using measured initial distributions of trace gases and temperature in the atmosphere. It is shown that in the case of exponential initial distribution of soluble trace gases and linear temperature distribution in the atmosphere, scavenging coefficient in the region between the ground and the position of a scavenging front is proportional to rainfall rate, solubility parameter in the under-cloud region, adjacent to a bottom of a cloud and to the growth constant in the formula for the initial profile of a soluble trace gas in the atmosphere. The derived formula yields the same value of scavenging coefficient for sulfur dioxide scavenging by rain as field estimates presented by McMahon and Denison (Atmos Environ 13:571-585, 1979). It is demonstrated that in the case when the altitude variation of temperature in the atmosphere is determined by the environmental lapse rate, scavenging coefficient increases with height in the region between the scavenging front and the ground. In the case when altitude temperature variation in the atmosphere is determined by temperature inversion, scavenging coefficient decreases with height in a region between the scavenging front and the ground. Theoretical predictions of the value of the scavenging coefficient for sulfur dioxide washout by rain and of the dependence of the magnitude of the scavenging coefficient on rain intensity are in good agreements with the atmospheric measurements of Martin (Atmos Environ 18:1955-1961, 1984).