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Record Rainfall At Honister?

December 7, 2015

By Paul Homewood 




There are a number of reports floating around that Storm Desmond has brought a 24-hour rainfall record, for instance;


The Government is expected to confirm a UK record in rainfall over 24 hours following the storm that submerged parts north of the country in floods this weekend.

Following an emergency Government meeting, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said that figures from a rain gauge in Honister, Cumbria, suggest a record amount of rain fell in the 24 hours between Friday and Saturday evenings. It measured 341mm, which is more than a month’s worth of rainfall in just one day and more than the UK has ever experienced in such a short amount of time.


This is a very short post, as I am working on a more detailed summary of the Cumbrian floods, and will be out for most of the day.

But there is one issue that needs to be addressed now.


There should be absolutely no surprise at all that, if a record was to be set anywhere, it would be around Honister Pass. Located at about 1000 feet up in the middle of the Lake District peaks, this area is well known as by far the wettest in England, and arguably the UK. Seathwaite, which currently holds the two-day rainfall record, and has held many such records previously, is a mile away.

But the very real problem with this apparent new record is that daily records at Honister have only been kept since 1970, since when there have been 15 incomplete years.This is revealed in the paper Extreme rainfall in Cumbria, November 2009 – an assessment of storm rarity, by Lisa Stewart et al.

The paper also makes clear that rainfall would normally be higher at Honister than at Seathwaite, as it is at a higher altitude.




It is well accepted that meteorological records should only be officially declared where a station has a long enough record, which clearly is not the case here. No doubt, Liz Truss has her own reasons for wanting to declare a new record, because flood defences have failed at Cockermouth.

So far, the Met Office appear to have made no announcement.

  1. Ian Magness permalink
    December 7, 2015 11:56 am

    My god – a storm that actually did perform.
    An aspect that the BBC etc does not seem to want to discuss is that it looks obvious to those of us in the South East (who have had little real rain of late) that this weather pattern, atrocious though it was, was relatively localised. The rainclouds were held in place by some unusual weather patterns, so did not sweep quickly away from Cumbria, nor were the midlands or south badly affected, as you would often expect. In short, any discussion of “record UK rain” will be wholly misplaced. In fact, and without access to the figures, I would wonder if the UK, taken as a whole, had much more rain than average over the past week, given the (often wet) time of year. Let’s keep things in perspective and not draw daft conclusions abut the onset of Armageddon.

  2. December 7, 2015 12:08 pm

    Records are tricky things, since extreme weather events move about somewhat from year to year, they have to be devised so as to be not sensitive to small perturbations, such as a storm just missing the UK.

    • December 7, 2015 2:21 pm

      Putting it another way, since storms move around the country from year to year, anywhere that gets a particularly wet or windy one is very likely to record a record of some sort.

  3. December 7, 2015 1:01 pm

    “But the very real problem with this apparent new record is that daily records at Honister have only been kept since 1970, since when there have been 15 incomplete years.”

    So the BBC claim that “Storm Desmond has broken all the records. 34cm of rain fell in 24 hours over the weekend. More that ever before in the United Kingdom.”,seems somewhat of an exaggeration.

    I feel another complain message coming up, if I can work up the energy!

  4. December 7, 2015 1:08 pm

    Paul, that’s an EA guage, see my/our postings on BH this morning. here and on Unthreaded (funny EA itself tweeted 352mm !)

  5. December 7, 2015 1:25 pm

    Julia Slingo was on The World at One today, stating that high rainfall was recorded at other locations and claiming a possible record.
    She said it was too soon to say whether it was caused by “climate change”, despite the BBC interviewer trying to get her to say it was.

    • John Moore. permalink
      December 7, 2015 5:41 pm

      Yes, I heard that too…and have found —

    • Robert permalink
      December 7, 2015 5:48 pm

      Slingo said that the rainfall was a ‘once in a 200 year incident’ with over 400mm falling on Thirlmere in 2 days. Rainfall from Thirlmere feeds into the river Greta in Keswick.

      Thirlmere is a reservoir and it would be interesting to know how full it was before the deluge. The flood prevention plan calls for reservoir levels in Thirlmere to be dropped during periods when fllooding may occurr.

      • Ed Henderson (Cumbrian Hydrologist) permalink
        December 19, 2015 2:39 pm

        Thirlmere was full. It discharged 10,000 megalitres in 24 hours which is roughly equivalent to 20% of the peak flow in Keswick. United Utilities were unable to release water prior to the event.

  6. December 7, 2015 2:41 pm

    Were people taking a lot of showers just then?

  7. It doesn't add up... permalink
    December 7, 2015 3:01 pm

    Met Office is now claiming the Honister reading as a record.

    However, this page has yet to catch up with the news:

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      December 7, 2015 9:22 pm

      I note the Met Office state:

      UK Climate pages are updated each month to reflect the latest month’s weather across the UK.

      Weather extremes

      The tables show the national weather records. To ensure consistency, these weather records are only given for stations with standard instruments and exposure. Although some records have been broken by non-standard stations, these are not accepted as official records for this reason.

      So I suppose that means we’ll only find out in January whether they really regard the Honister measurement as consistent with their standards for a record. It might not be a surprise to find they exclude it, after the publicity has died down.

      • December 7, 2015 10:32 pm

        Except it took them about five minutes to declare the”record” on Heathrow runway in July!!

  8. Matthew permalink
    December 7, 2015 3:07 pm

    The Lyth Valley near Kendal was badly flooded, but this is all part of the Environment Agency’s plan. Driven by their green credentials and the RSPB, they want to turn the land from productive farmland to wetlands for birds. Same as Devon a couple of years ago.

    See this link from back in October.

    The EA will have significantly contributed to the flooding by not dredging, not maintaining the pumps, and positively trying to flood the area.

    Birds are more important than people to the EA, they will be jumping with joy!

  9. Peter R Blower permalink
    December 7, 2015 3:08 pm

    So probably a new 24h rainfall record for the new (even higher) Honister station. I guess records will occur frequently as a new hilltop site starts to accumulate data – well fairly frequently for the first few hundred years of operation.
    I note that the BBC video shows water running down a hillside and across a road (around 1 minute in). It’s only when the camera pans back that it is clear that the culvert under the road is partially blocked – hence the flooded road. Is the culvert blockage dereliction down to Highways Authority, River Authority, Environment Protection or just due to Climate Change?

  10. December 7, 2015 3:11 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:
    Incomplete records and only since 1970? Hmmm

    Netweather covered it relatively well bar this deplorable bit (my emphasis);

    Will it happen again?

    What used to be once in 100 year or even 200 year flooding events appear to become increasingly and worryingly common, as this current event in Cumbria illustrates, 6 years since the last record breaking rainfall event in a similar area. Whether this is a direct cause of global warming, natural or man-made, is open for debate but not for discussion in this blog. But it does seem flooding is becoming a more frequent visitor to our country and nowhere seems immune, as the winter floods along the Thames a few years ago showed.;storyid=7032;sess=

    Note the ‘I’m not saying it’s climate change but…’ dirty trick followed by ‘it’s open for debate but not here’. Very tawdry. The use of the 100/200 year flood shows the author is either a complete bonehead (unlikely) confusing the statistical nature* of flooding events (and how they often cluster) or is being deliberately deceptive.



    USGS research has shown no linkage between flooding (either increases or decreases) and the increase in greenhouse gases. Essentially, from USGS long-term streamgage data for sites across the country with no regulation or other changes to the watershed that could influence the streamflow, the data shows no systematic increases in flooding through time.

    A much bigger impact on flooding, though, is land use change. Without proper mitigation, urbanization of watersheds increases flooding. Moreover, encroachment into the floodplain by homes and businesses leads to greater economic losses and potential loss of life, with more encroachment leading to greater losses.
    See also

    • A C Osborn permalink
      December 7, 2015 4:55 pm

      This business of 100 & 200 year events was endlessly repeated on the BBC News Chanel coverage of the floods this morning.
      And not just by the BBC interviewers but also by all the people involved in the flooding.
      They have been coached in what to say for the highest Climate Change impact.

      • December 7, 2015 5:23 pm

        It’s sort of understandable for the layman to say it but not when you have studied these events :-/

  11. Mark Hodgson permalink
    December 7, 2015 3:18 pm

    I think there has been unseemly haste to declare a new record (which it may be, by the way, for what it’s worth – but as Paul’s article makes clear, it might not be worth very much).

    I suspect there are reasons for this:

    1. The Environment Agency needs to justify itself and the substantial sums of money it has spent, apparently with little or no effect. So they say on the one hand that the defences sort of did their job (by giving people more time than they otherwise would have had to prepare for the floods!) and on the other hand by going on about record rainfall, thereby implying that it’s not their fault there was so much rain – how could they anticipate such an extreme event?

    2. The usual suspects will jump on any passing bus to claim it’s evidence of man-made climate change.

    Whether it is or it isn’t evidence of man-made climate change (and I suspect it isn’t) doesn’t much matter. What really matters, as I said in a comment on Paul’s last post, is that we are wasting billions pretending to combat climate change by reducing our CO2 emissions, while the rest of the world happily invests in new coal power stations and increases their CO2 emissions (all the while pretending they’re not) thereby dwarfing and massively outweighing our puny efforts. If we really do have billions of pounds available to spend (despite a £1.56Tr national debt and ongoing annual deficits of c £70Bn) then my view is that we should be spending that money trying to adapt to climate change and protecting us from its consequences, not wasting it Canute-like on making no difference to something that is happening anyway – whether naturally or as a result of humankind’s activities.

    • David Richardson permalink
      December 7, 2015 4:10 pm

      Thank you Mark – you have saved me a lot of typing. I totally agree with every word. Can I just add ditto.

  12. December 7, 2015 3:59 pm

    I remember camping in Seathwaite as a scout. – it was known then as the wettest location in England, and boy did it rain when we were there. Our tent was the only one not washed out as I insisted on pitching it on a slope and digging a trench around three sides of it. No flood plains for any of my houses ever since.

  13. December 7, 2015 4:10 pm

    It was orographic rainfall from a near stationary front draped across an upland region so nothing unusual synoptically.

    Merseyside got nearly no rain at all for most of the relevant period because it lay to the lee of Snowdonia which received a lot.

    The intensity would simply be due to the length of the wind track from the south west so that humidity was high before the hills forced the air upwards so that heavy rain could condense out.

    The cause of the strong jetstream in which the warm moist air was embedded was colder than usual air forcing southwards from Greenland across the North Atlantic so one could say such events are a result of global cooling rather than global warming.

    The UK certainly received more storms and heavier rains during the LIA as compared to the MWP.

  14. David Richardson permalink
    December 7, 2015 5:01 pm

    Whether this is a record or not, and let us state clearly that it is deep up the high tail of rainfall events in the UK, it is the effects that matter and these have been pretty extreme by any standards. Areas that have had much flooding in the past have seen worse floods in this event and there will be a few reasons for that beyond the amount of precipitation – as Matthew says above. Cumbria has had a lot of rainfall in recent weeks and any soft ground (as opposed to rock) would already be at field capacity, with further rainfall simply running straight off – always a factor in the worse flood events.

    I agree with the comments of Ian Magness above – an very intense but unexceptional frontal zone made devastating by being blocked into one small area for a long time, before finally moving away. When it did move southeast it faded fairly quickly.

    The area of the record, if that is what it was, has always had the highest rainfall on average in England and close to the highest in Scotland. The orographic lift of air and enhanced rainfall by “seeder feeder” mechanism seems optimised in this location.

    We should be thankful that the loss of life has been limited and much praise should go to all the emergency services and power workers. The timely, though some reports say not perfect, evacuation of people must have helped in this regard. My heart goes out to those affected.

    These days where every “storm” seems a drama in the media, it must be difficult when your house is under 6 feet of water to look on the bright side – but the winds of the “The Burns Day Storm” in January 1990 killed around 90 people.

    A final thought that echoes the excellent comments of Mark Hodgson above. Just think if a fraction of the money wasted on building wind turbines in Cumbria (and elsewhere) had been spent on flood defences instead how much better placed its citizens would be today.

    • Mark Hodgson permalink
      December 8, 2015 9:21 am

      At the risk of being a mutual appreciation society, I agree with every word of yours too, David. I just wanted to come back in on the wind turbine point. Under every wind turbine are concrete foundations the size of an olympic swimming pool – probably bigger in the case of some of the newer, larger, turbines being built. Although by and large they have been kept out of the Lake District National Park, they are a ring of steel around it. Imagine how much natural soakaway has been destroyed and how much extra run-off has resulted. It’s not entirely irrelevant for Cockermouth (I know – I live there), as we have a lot of turbines on higher ground to the north and north east of the town, and it certainly isn’t irrelevant for places like Carlisle, which is the meeting point for three rivers, all of which lie in valleys with horrendous numbers of wind turbines.

      And while we’re wasting money on wind turbines. and not spending enough on flood defences, we get this on the BBC news website today: “Diesel farms in line for power payout”. The article is here: and the opening paragraph is this: “Diesel farms could this week win contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds as part of a Government scheme to keep the lights on.”

      You couldn’t make it up!

  15. John Peter permalink
    December 7, 2015 7:14 pm

    BBC News at 6 o’clock declared that 13 inches at Honister Pass was a new record so there you are. Notwithstanding what Paul Homewood found out about this station, this is it and will be passed around. Sligo was also there with it is caused by man made CO2 and a wry smile. Does she believe it or not?

  16. John Peter permalink
    December 7, 2015 7:29 pm

    I remember when Own Paterson was involved in the SW England rain a couple a winters ago (record winter 3 months rainfall per Met Office – contradicted by PH) the issue he discovered was a lack of drainage in the canals and rivers and no pumps. I wonder if Carlisle has suffered from silt in the River Eden downstream? I would not be surprised if run-off has been restricted just like in SW England. Maintaining drainage might have kept raising water within the flood defenses. Apparently these were designed to take a 7.7 m. rise in water level and it went to 7.9 m.

  17. Neil Hampshire permalink
    December 7, 2015 7:35 pm

    Here are the historic levels for Kendal floods.

    The 1898 floods were clearly the worst. Does anyone know how this years floods compare?
    Are they truly unprecendented?

    • December 7, 2015 7:40 pm

      That plaque looks pretty dry, so maybe the floodwaters didn’t reach it? 😀😀

      Maybe the fact Beeb has yet to report the 1898-mark being exceeded, is circumstantial evidence that it wasn’t.

  18. December 7, 2015 7:49 pm

    The trouble with floods is that there are many other factors involved other than simply rainfall such as additional buildings etc, which affect drainage.
    Some of the footage on the BBC (Carlisle?) was of a flooded supermarket car park.
    A few years ago that would have been a green field which would drain better than tarmac.

  19. Bloke down the pub permalink
    December 7, 2015 8:46 pm

    The BBC News could hardly contain their glee that Desmond came along and did his worse just in time for COP21.

  20. potentilla permalink
    December 8, 2015 3:54 am

    “It is well accepted that meteorological records should only be officially declared where a station has a long enough record, which clearly is not the case here”

    While this is true for the record at a given station, I believe the record being claimed here is the largest recorded rainfall in a 24-hour period anywhere in the UK. As such, the aggregate total record length for gauges anywhere in the UK is actually very long.

    Greater 24-hour totals are likely to have occurred at other times and locations in the UK but these were not recorded.

  21. December 8, 2015 10:08 am

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  22. December 8, 2015 10:15 am

    The BBC News Channel referred to peoples homes being “destroyed” by floods this morning. I am aware of homes being damaged by floods, but not totally destroyed.

    More exaggeration by the BBC?

  23. The Old Bloke permalink
    December 9, 2015 12:27 am

    So, was it a record or wasn’t it? The claim is that in Honister, Cumbria, an Environment Agency rain gauge recorded a record in the U.K for an amount of rainfall collected in 24 hours, that being 341mm. Or did it? How many of us know that the Environment Agency use different gauges to that of the Met Office and that the Environment Agency rain gauges do not conform to the “Standard” W.M.O. 5″ collection tube? Well, I did. I also know that at the last review, the E.A. gauges, mainly “tipping bucket” types are known to record spurious data as the method of collection and measuring has given rise to incorrect data. The funnel to collect the rainfall is not the standard 5″ as in the Met Office gauges but can be up to 12″ for the E.A. ones. The E.A. gathering can also be greatly affected by wind and to a lesser degree by temperature. The E.A. know that their gauges cannot be relied upon and as such ‘adjustments’ have to be made.
    I have enclosed some important links for all of the forum members and trust that they are read.
    The first is a photo of the E.A. device at Honister
    The rain gauge is the white “toilet” bowl in the back ground and this picture can be enlarged by clicking on it.

    Next is the problems pertaining to the “tipping bucket” gauges as used by the E.A.

    Click to access Evaluation%20of%20Tipping%20Bucket%20Rain%20Gauge%20Performance%20and%20Data%20Quality.pdf

    And third is the Met Office requirement as stipulated by the “standard” rain gauge which is commonly used throughout the world and regulated by the W.M.O.

    [An ordinary funnel-type raingauge has been in use for all manual measurements since the earliest days of observing. The design has varied over the years but today the Met Office strongly encourages conformity in order to maximise comparability of readings across the network. The standard design has a rim of diameter 5 in (127 mm) standing 12 in (30 cm) above the ground. Raingauges based on the standard design are adapted to meet specific needs; there is a version having a capacity to hold a large volume of rain which is used in remote sites where readings may only be taken once a month. Exposure of the gauge should be on open ground distant from the effects of sheltering objects. At a few windy sites, established a number of years ago, there may be a surrounding turf wall of diameter 3 m and height 30 cm which shields the gauge from the extreme effects of strong winds. Systematic differences as large as 12% have been noted between an unsheltered gauge and one within a turf wall. It is not the present practice to build turf walls at new station]

    To repeat, the standard Met Office gauge has a collecting neck of just 5″ whereas the E.A. in the photo above has a 12″ bowl leading to a collecting chamber. Is it no wonder that a record was set if the collecting bowl was nearly 3 times the size?

    Click to access OH_Chapter9.pdf


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