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Long Term Precipitation Trends At Oxford

October 5, 2016

By Paul Homewood 



The Radcliffe Meteorological Station


Radcliffe Meteorological Station


The Radcliffe Meteorological Station at Oxford University has been collecting weather data since 1767, and therefore offers great insights into English meteorological trends. (Officially, the Radcliffe Observatory was founded in 1772, but the first Radcliffe observer, Professor of Astronomy Thomas Hornsby, had also been keeping private records since 1767).

Not only has the data been meticulously recorded throughout, but the methodology and metadata has also been carefully documented.

A publication by JG Wallace, Meteorological Observations at Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford: 1815-1995, goes into great detail here.


I have been keeping track of their data for a while, and can now update some of the precipitation statistics.



First, annual rainfall:





The wettest year was 1852, with 1034mm. The next wettest was 2012 when 978mm fell, slightly more than the 962mm in 1960.

Driest years were 1788, 1921, 1802, 1771 and 1964.

Things appear to have got a bit wetter around the late 19thC, but there is no real sign of things changing much since then.

As I have pointed out before, the year to year variations, ie weather, utterly dwarf whatever trends there might be.



I have also obtained daily precipitation data from the Met Office, which they have for years since 1930.




Extreme daily rainfall is clearly not on the rise, either in frequency or intensity.

The three events that really do stand out were July 1968, September 1951 and June 1960.

Climate scientists keep trying to tell us that rainfall events such as these will get worse, but this is not the case in Oxford, at least.



The JG Wallace publication notes that there is some doubt whether snowfall was included in the precipitation figures in the early years.

The earliest date that this was definitely recorded as being the case was 1859, though even then it may not have been systematically done until 1926.

This could account for the early years being relatively dry, something that was also noted by two other researchers, Craddock and Smith, in 1978 (see page 42).

This actually raised a rather more fundamental issue. If snowfall was not properly accounted for at the high quality site of Radcliffe, was it properly measured at a host of lesser stations?

And can we rely on the Met Office’s national precipitation data during those years? They keep telling us that winters are getting wetter, but are they comparing like with like?

  1. martinbrumby permalink
    October 5, 2016 9:26 am


    After the Boxing Day (2015) flooding in York, I had a fairly close look at the records (via FOIA requests and personal contacts) of rainfall and river flow in the Catchment of the River Foss, which joins the much larger River Ouse, in York. (Living on the banks of the Foss above York, I have an interest in this topic, although I was never in danger of flooding myself).

    The response to requests for information greatly varied between various agencies. Much of what could be discovered was a bit alarming (instrumentation failures, rain gauges which hadn’t been read for months, various authorities not talking to each other, some incompetence and not a little negligence).

    But the thing that came across loud and clear was that, over the last twenty years, the technology and methods of measuring precipitation, river flow and even river stage (depth) had all changed radically. And that no-one could honestly say what the rainfall in the Foss Catchment had actually been before, during or after the flood event. I would be sceptical that anyone could even estimate the precipitation within 10%. So the only thing clearly ‘unprecedented’ was the amount of shroud-waving agit-prop being offered as “Settled Science”.

  2. October 5, 2016 9:38 am

    Complaining about excessive rainfall in the UK has to be the mother of all acts of ingratitude and of a ludicrous sense of entitlement to a perfect unchanging climate, given that many parts of the world suffer from drought, with people spending hours fetching dirty water from far away.

    But no doubt the first flood of the year will bring the usual pantomime of wailing from the likes of Julia Slingo, Jon Snow, and a host of lesser known “experts”.

  3. tom0mason permalink
    October 5, 2016 9:58 am

    Oh, for a change the inclement weather in England is news.
    When was that not ever news…

    1953: North Sea flood
    A severe windstorm over the North Sea combined with an unusually high spring tide caused a storm surge in both eastern England and Holland. Over 300 people died in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and in Holland around 1,800 died.

    1891: Great Blizzard
    More than 200 people died and Cornwall and Devon completely cut off from the rest of the country by a great blanket of snow that covered much of the two counties.

    1881: Eyemouth Disaster
    The southern coast of Berwickshire, Scotland, was struck by a severe windstorm on 14 October 1881, killing 189 fishermen, many from the village of Eyemouth. The event is still referred to locally as “Black Friday”.

    1703: Great Storm
    The Great Storm of 1703 was described as the worst natural disaster ever to hit southern Britain. Between 8,000 and 15,000 lives were lost and the lead roofing was blown off Westminster Abbey.

    1607: Bristol floods
    Some 2,000 people drowned around the Severn Estuary, with 200 square miles of farmland inundated. Long blamed on a storm surge, it is now suspected that the devastation was caused by a tsunami.

    And some others here

    • catweazle666 permalink
      October 5, 2016 11:07 pm

      Great Storm of 1703

      The Great Storm of 1703 was a destructive extratropical cyclone that struck central and southern England on 26 November (7 December in today’s calendar), 1703. High winds caused 2,000 chimney stacks to collapse in London, and winds damaged New Forest, which lost 4,000 oaks. Ships were blown hundreds of miles off-course, and over 1,000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands alone. News bulletins of casualties and damage were sold all over England – a novelty at that time. The Church of England declared that the storm was God’s vengeance for the sins of the nation. Daniel Defoe thought it was a divine punishment for poor performance against Catholic armies in the War of the Spanish Succession.

      It was ever thus!

  4. October 5, 2016 10:02 am

    “Things appear to have got a bit wetter around the late 19thC” – glad you said it because I wasn’t certain whether it was real – however, even if it is wetter in the late 19th century it’s no different from around 1880 so it’s certainly within the normal natural variation.

  5. October 5, 2016 10:05 am

    martinbrumby: “the thing that came across loud and clear was that, over the last twenty years, the technology and methods of measuring precipitation, river flow and even river stage (depth) had all changed radically”.

    When they come to do the wash up to try to explain why a generation of academics got everything on the climate so wrong – it’s almost certain that the change in instrumentation will play a significant part (not a significant as the academics will claim – because by far the biggest issue is the arrogance and eco-politicing in academia without which there never would have been this disaster).

    • October 5, 2016 10:35 am

      The instrumentation issue is certainly significant for most of the long term records. The old manual methods have been replaced with far more dubious modern instruments in which the difference between accuracy and precision is often forgotten.

      This is probably the pretext for all the humangenisation of data by the USA and Met office. The precise mean temperature over 24 hours is significantly different from the (max+min)/2 value that used to be used but is no better a guide to the climatic variation of the area.

  6. Niall Allsop permalink
    October 5, 2016 12:12 pm

    On a lighter note …
    In the early seventies I was the headteacher of a rural school in east Wiltshire, in the grounds of which there was a small weather station, the realm of a local enthusiast, Teddy. Each week in the local paper there was a record of the village’s rainfall and other data collected by Teddy, who was very proud of his contribution to local weather statistics and the county-wide coverage they received.
    Shortly after Teddy’s death, I was talking with some local men in the village pub and was waxing lyrical about the contribution these statistics made to the overall picture of Wiltshire weather. My enthusiasm was not replicated among my companions, some of whom looked decidedly uneasy, embarrassed even.
    The truth eventually emerged when it turned out that, for years, and following a heavy drinking session at the pub, it was de rigueur to pay a visit to Teddy’s weather station and top up his rain gauge.
    Or, as one man put it: “Weather records my a**e!”

    • AlecM permalink
      October 5, 2016 2:23 pm

      You’re taking the pi**………

  7. Bloke down the pub permalink
    October 5, 2016 12:52 pm

    As I have pointed out before, the year to year variations, ie weather, utterly dwarf whatever trends there might be.

    Out of interest, could you give the average year on year variation and the overall trend for this data set so that we can see how they compare?

  8. Broadlands permalink
    October 5, 2016 2:26 pm

    Bloke…Using the downloaded NOAA 2012 monthly values, I can give you the US precipitation data for the 20th Century.

    Average year-on-year is minus 0.01 inches. MAX is +8.33 inches, MIN is minus 6.40. The linear year-on-year trend 1901-2000? Y = 0.0001x – 0.2206.

    Like year-on-year temperatures the trends are barely perceptible.

  9. Mike Jackson permalink
    October 5, 2016 4:08 pm

    With respect, Paul, you are missing a crucial point here.

    The rainfall will get worse, just as temperatures will increase and seas will rise and will become more acidic and storms will be worse.

    The question, as those of us long enough in the tooth to remember Peter Cook et al in their heyday is “When will it be, this end of which you have spoken?”

    And the closing line: “Never mind, lads, same time tomorrow… we must get a winner one day.”

    But probably not in our lifetime.

  10. October 5, 2016 10:38 pm

    Martin.As I remember,the Kings Arms pub. just down from the Ouse bridge in York has been flooding for years.The last time I visited some years ago,there were dates of the floods on the wall by the door as one enters,and the dates are written at the height of the flood water level at that time.The dates could be interesting if you have time for a look.Might be worth a pint as well.

  11. October 7, 2016 11:53 am

    It appears to be remarkably repetitive.

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