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Answers From Chris Smith!

April 6, 2013

By Paul Homewood




The saga continues!

To quickly recap, Lord Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency and formerly Labour MP Chris Smith, was interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph in February. Discussing floods, he told the Telegraph:-


We are experiencing a new kind of rain.

Instead of rain sweeping in a curtain across the country, we are getting convective rain, which sits in one place and just dumps itself in a deluge over a long period of time. From the point of view of filling up the rivers and the drains, that is quite severe.”


This attracted much criticism from experienced meteorologists, such as Bill Giles, who wrote to the Telegraph to complain:-

“There is nothing new about convective rain. Perhaps next time he should get a meteorologist to check his answers so that he doesn’t appear so ignorant of simple straightforward facts.”

Philip Eden, The Sunday Telegraph’s weather expert, also criticised Lord Smith’s “fundamental error” and pointed out there was no evidence at all of convective rain becoming more frequent or intense.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Environment Agency tried to suggest that Smith had been trying to explain that convective rain was becoming increasingly common.



FOI Request

I decided to follow this up, and ask the Agency under FOI for the evidence used to support Smith’s claims.

Their first reply did not answer my specific questions, and simply referred me to the Met Office 2012 summary, which pointed out how wet the year had been but made no mention of convective rain, while claiming that he had been “misquoted”. I saw this as an attempt to fob me off, so I refused to accept their reply.

My persistence paid off, and I received their second reply yesterday. Their “evidence”, it seems, centres around a briefing document sent to them by the Met Office, when officials from the latter attended the September Board Meeting at the Agency. As far as I can see, this document has never been in the public domain.

As well as addressing the specific issue of convective rain, the document also goes into some detail on two other matters of significance. I will be discussing these in a separate post.

But on the original issue, the Met have this to say (my bold):-


However, when the jetstream dips to the south of the UK, the distribution of rainfall is skewed away from the climatological average, and southern areas can see periods of significantly above average rainfall and associated higher risk of river and surface water flooding. Not only do the low pressure systems steer across southern areas, but the following factors act to increase the risk of heavy rain and flooding:

· different prevailing wind direction means that different windward slopes will be subject to enhanced rainfall

· the frequent southerly to easterly component to the airflow means that warm, thundery air from the near Continent may be drawn towards the UK, increasing the potential for heavy rainfall

· fronts are more likely to become slow-moving, giving persistent rain in some areas

· between the low pressure systems themselves, the dominant low-pressure (‘cyclonic’) environment is conducive to formation of heavy showers during summer. Again, these may be slow-moving, with an increased risk of intense downpours and surface water flooding.

 Low pressure systems of this nature are unusual in summer and because the atmosphere is warmer it can hold more water than in other seasons resulting in significant amounts of rainfall


It is really the last point that has relevance. What the statement boils down to is this.

1) Convective rain, or heavy showers, tend to form in a “low pressure environment”, which is unusual in summer.

2) The atmosphere is warmer in summer, and therefore can hold more water, resulting in heavy rainfall.

3) Last summer, the movement of the jetstream to the south resulted in persistent low pressure systems across southern areas.


And that’s it! No evidence, or even speculation, that any of the factors were affected by climate change, or that such events are on the increase.

There is absolutely nothing in the document to support either Smith’s claim of “a new kind of rain”, or the subsequent one that convective rain was increasing.

For a politician like Chris Smith, the message is everything, whether supported by facts or not. But, in future, perhaps he might like to ponder Bill Giles’ advice “to get a meteorologist to check his answers so that he doesn’t appear so ignorant of simple straightforward facts”.





  1. Ray permalink
    April 6, 2013 6:24 pm

    Well done for getting to the bottom of this.

    What it seems to amount to is perfectly normal rain, but more of it than usual, and as you say nothing to do with “climate change”, just normal variability.

    This reflects my own experience that when you investigate the facts behind such outlandish claims,
    they usually turn out to be nonsense.

    It’s a pity that Chris Smith can’t be held to account for this and admit he was wrong. Of course, because he is a “Lord”, most people believe he must be correct.

  2. Joseph Wilson permalink
    April 6, 2013 8:28 pm

    People such as Chris Smith, (political)should be ignored whenever they speak on climate. For such people,gaining a headline is all important.
    Possibly we should only listen to qualified meteorologists who do not have an axe to grind…if such exist.

  3. April 6, 2013 10:38 pm

    This is interesting – I have an audio recording of a BBC Radio 4 Today programme segment from 3rd Jan, where Roger Harrabin talks about a Met Office study purporting to show a trend of more frequent episodes of “extreme rain” since 1960. (No transcript yet – this is part of the backlog!) Could it have been what Lord Smith was referring to, I wonder?

    There’s a Met Office press release about it, here:

    “Preliminary research from the Met Office also suggests we may have seen a change in the nature of the rain we get, with ‘extreme’ daily rainfall becoming more frequent.”

    • April 6, 2013 11:04 pm

      It’s interesting they compare back to 1960, when the UK was going through a relatively dry phase.

      • Ray permalink
        April 7, 2013 8:05 am

        I have done some calculations of my own, using UKMO HadUKP daily rainfall figures which does suggest that in England & Wales, daily rainfall events of over 10mm have recently been higher than in the 60’s and 70’s, they are similar to the 1950’s. Unfortunately the HadUKP daily figures don’t go back further than 1931, but since there is a positive correlation between high annual rainfall and high daily rainfall, it is quite likely that daily rainfall figures were even higher in the 1870/80’s and 1920/30’s, and possibly in the 1770’s.
        I think that what these people are seeing is normal variability but they are interpreting it as “climate change”, caused by “global warming”. I think that is called “confirmation bias”.

  4. Andy DC permalink
    April 7, 2013 3:53 am

    The alarmists, now deperate about lack of warming, are trying to claim weather is now “weird” or “different” or “more extreme”. So much for that nonsense.

  5. April 7, 2013 4:58 am

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    Another excellent post from Paul Homewood. Be sure to bookmark his blog for regular visits. This amounts to the govt trying to spin its way out of bearing responsibility for slack planning regs and inadequate water management. Building on flood plains leads to the flooding of homes.

  6. mitigatedsceptic permalink
    April 7, 2013 7:47 am

    Excellent! Thank you Paul – you have made my day! Got him below the waterline – but will he sink?

  7. Hans Jelbring permalink
    April 7, 2013 9:04 am

    The answer from the Met office is very interesting. It is an example of observational evidence during a number of years involving effects emerging from the variations of the Jet Stream. This is the way science should work when understanding is lacking and predictions are close to impossible to produce.

    I remember when talking to the late Marcel Leroux and he said that the reasons of variability have to be mainly “ground based” and not coming from above. Marcel was the French professor who extensionally studied “Mobile Polar Highs”. The turmoil of the atmosphere often depends on the frequency, intensity and paths of Mobile Polar Highs (MPH).

    The fact is that big MPHs do change the direction of the Jet Stream, sometimes very dramatically and it moves southward when it happens. A prolonged production of cold air masses that chose to move southward over the Atlantic will move the Jet Stream southwards for prolonged times north of England, too.

    The met office is showing its ignorance about the work produced by professor Marcel Leroux and Alexis Pommier whose thesis is named “Analyses of Highs and Lows tracks in South and North Atlantic from 1960-2000”. The thesis is an impressive example of statistic concerning the motion and behavoiur of Mobile Polar Highs (about 280 pages if i remember correctly) Fore more information see:

    A major fact about MPHs is that the physical factors producing the variations in production rate, size, pathways and acceleration are close to unknown. The establishment has chosen to ignore the important work by Leroux and Pommier. Obviously it has been more interesting to hunt the nonexisting impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on climate more than observing and reporting hard evidence relating to real climate variations.

  8. Climate Daily permalink
    April 7, 2013 9:57 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Daily.

  9. April 8, 2013 3:10 am

    We have snow on the Daffodils today in NE Oregon-and hail and a bit o thunder.
    a new kind of snow?
    I’m somehow not impressed. I taught a Weather Flying course years ago to instrument
    student for a US instrument rating. Rain happens. Convective activity happens.
    More importantly Developers build in all the wrong places and local governments LET

  10. Bloke down the pub permalink
    April 8, 2013 10:09 am

    Typical depressions in the UK have two fronts, the warm one comes first followed by the cold one. When the cold air mass moves in it under-cuts the warmer air, displacing it upwards. This air is then warmer than the air surrounding it so,being lighter, it continues to rise forming the same type of clouds as purely convectional systems. The distinction Chris Smith tries to draw doesn’t really exist.

  11. April 8, 2013 10:40 am

    Brilliant ! – well done – we’ve added our ha’porth worth at our place….

  12. Jon permalink
    April 8, 2013 10:00 pm

    You mean my song was wrong after all?

    A long long time ago
    I’d look out the window and predict the
    Weather for the day.

    If I saw clouds I’d call for rain,
    If not I’d say “It’s fine again.”
    And folks were fairly happy
    Either way.

    But lately we’ve been automated,
    My good intentions are frustrated.
    All of my predictions
    Turn out to be fictions.

    More at

  13. April 9, 2013 12:08 pm


    any chance a bit of doggerel for the Environment Agency rather than the Met Office?

    – after all, the do have an eminent poetry scholar as Chairperson


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