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Weather Records Shattered–180 Years Ago

March 26, 2022

By Paul Homewood

h/t Ian Magness

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Britain has been battered by floods and parched by drought in recent years – but our Victorian ancestors didn’t escape weather extremes.

A project digitising the Met Office’s weather archive has found that several records, particularly those for dry weather, were set much earlier than previously thought.

Scientists at the University of Reading asked the public for help digitally transcribing 130 year’s worth of handwritten rainfall observations from across the UK and Ireland.

Thousands of volunteers in the “Rainfall Rescue” project studied records from between 1677 and 1960, based on rain gauges located in almost every town and village across England and Wales.

Records go as far back as 1836

The project, launched in March 2020, has extended the rainfall data available in the official Met Office national record, meaning it now goes back to 1836 rather than 1862.

New records include England’s driest May, originally thought to be May 2020 but now believed to be May 1844, when the country saw just 8.3mm of rain.

The overall driest year on record, previously thought to be 1887, is now recorded as 1855.

November and December 1852 were also exceptionally wet months, with the year seeing the wettest November on record for many regions in southern England.

1852 was also the wettest year overall for parts of the UK including Oxfordshire, where there was significant flooding.

The year’s floods were known as the “Duke of Wellington floods” as they coincided with the military hero’s funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Rainfall methodically recorded 

Victorian “observers” methodically chronicled the weather, with rainfall particularly important because of its impact on crops and food supplies.

Britain’s Victorian ancestors also endured weather extremes, with the Royal Suspension Chain Pier in Brighton destroyed during a storm in 1896 CREDIT: Digital Vision Vectors

Rainfall has been monitored systematically in the UK since the 1860s, when George Symons established the British Rainfall Organisation, later absorbed into the Met Office, but most records made before 1960 were still in paper form.

The 65,000 paper records held in the Met Office National Meteorological Archive were scanned during 2019 and many were written in ornate handwriting meaning humans were needed to transcribe.

Professor Ed Hawkins, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, said he had expected the project to take months but high levels of interest from the public meant it was completed in days.

He said: “A lot of the dry records that we’ve got have been rewritten, and that’s purely because our climate is getting wetter now.

“Just like all the cold records are back in the past, it’s the same with the dry records, because the climate’s got wetter.

“Most of the wet records are more recent – the exception to that was 1852 which was an extremely wet November, and I’m sure at the time they wondered what was going on.

“That would be a stand-out month for that period. Now it wouldn’t look so unusual.”

The UK’s average temperature is thought to have risen by 1.5C since the pre-industrial period, he said, and the extra data “helps us better understand the long-term trends towards the dramatic changes we’re seeing today”.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/03/24/weather-history-books-rewritten-victorian-archives-push-back/

There is nothing surprising about any of this, because we see similar trends in the England & Wales Rainfall Series, which dates back to 1766.

However Hawkins is being extremely devious and dishonest, when he claims:

“A lot of the dry records that we’ve got have been rewritten, and that’s purely because our climate is getting wetter now.

“Just like all the cold records are back in the past, it’s the same with the dry records, because the climate’s got wetter”

It is true that the UK is wetter on average:

But this is largely due to Scotland. In England, the long term average has changed little since the 1870s:

The major change is that drought years are very much a thing of the past, which in turn pushes up the average. This does not mean England’s climate is becoming more extreme, quite the contrary.

Now consider this Hawkins claim:

 “Most of the wet records are more recent”

When we actually examine the data, we find it is not only baseless, but grossly misleading.

Since 2002, only one year, 2012, makes it into the ten wettest.

And in terms of wettest months, only two months occurred in the last decade, January 2014 and February 2020. Given that there have been 29 months over 150mm since 1836, this is close to average:

 

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https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/pub/data/weather/uk/climate/datasets/Rainfall/date/England.txt

There certainly have been much more extreme interludes. For instance the 1860s, when three months made the list. Unquestionably the most extreme decade though was the 1910s, with five such months – 1911, 1912, 1914, 1915 and 1918.

1929 was also a remarkable year, with November and December receiving 173mm and 163mm of rainfall respectively.

The wettest month in recent years was November 2009, with 170mm. But that was only the sixth wettest month on record. By far the wettest was October 1903, with 191mm.

By every measure Hawkins claims don’t stand up to scrutiny, for England at least. It may be that rainfall is now more extreme in Scotland, but it is dishonest to pretend that the whole country is similarly affected.

22 Comments
  1. March 26, 2022 11:27 am

    “Hawkins is being extremely devious and dishonest, when he claims:

    “A lot of the dry records that we’ve got have been rewritten, and that’s purely because our climate is getting wetter now.

    “Just like all the cold records are back in the past, it’s the same with the dry records, because the climate’s got wetter””

    Nice he gives fair warning that he’s going to go through this fiddling here, exaggerating there.
    Anything to keep his mendacious narrative afloat.

  2. George Herraghty permalink
    March 26, 2022 11:28 am

    We can’t have this Paul – it doesn’t suit the agenda!

    Here’s one for the alarmists:
    Wettest Day on Record?
    The Great Flood of moray, way back in 1829. The ‘Muckle Spate’ saw the water rise to one foot under the central span of Telford’s famous Craigellachie Bridge.
    Rabbits and hares were spotted sitting on logs 10 miles out at sea from passing fishing boats.

    • magesox permalink
      March 26, 2022 11:52 am

      Try telling that to young people today George – they won’t believe you!

  3. March 26, 2022 11:51 am

    When Storm Desmond occurred in 2015 and politicians left and right were spouting off about “biblical this and unprecedented that” I did a quick search on the internet and found a paper from Lancaster University which detailed what they found in parish records in the North West. What they found showed that the storm was anything but unprecedented. I do not remember the authors name and try as I might I have been unable to find the paper again.

  4. that man permalink
    March 26, 2022 12:21 pm

    Unscientific babblings by Hawkins et al simply bring their profession into disrepute.

  5. Ben Vorlich permalink
    March 26, 2022 12:33 pm

    We have two of our grandchildren for 2-3 hours after school three afternoons. The eldest is in second year of secondary school and he does his homework when he’s here. Currently he’s covering the industrial revolution and its impact on Derby.

    He had a set of four maps of Derby and questions about changes to environment, one of which was the River Derwent which is much narrower in the 21st cebtury than the 18th. So his homework had a couple of sentences about the built up area and narrower river causing flooding in the city and up stream. We made no mention of Climate Change

    • March 26, 2022 1:25 pm

      I was amused recently to find out that children of today still have to learn about oxbow lakes, having had to do that myself about 50 years ago. Besides shallow topicality and political indoctrination there is still much pointless detail in school education.

      • March 26, 2022 2:34 pm

        Nowt wrong with oxbow lakes. They are most relevant in analysing fluvial oil and gas reservoir systems and even offer “golden” opportunities for those in the gold and silver prospecting industry….funny that

  6. March 26, 2022 12:41 pm

    I hope that they make this data available for free to the public, or extend HadUKP backwards. The only long UK daily rainfall records currently available for free (AFAIK) are ones not controlled by the Met Office, Oxford-Radcliffe and Armagh, getting hold of all of the latter involving a formidable obstacle course.

  7. ThinkingScientist permalink
    March 26, 2022 1:32 pm

    Lets not forget the Met Office climate change brochure published in 2009:

    “Total summer rainfall has decreased in most parts of the UK”

    Under the section “How our climate may change” is this quote:

    “As summers become warmer and drier droughts are more likely, again, particularly in the South East.”

    Except now it hasn’t – it is back to slightly above the long term average in all parts of the UK. So much for that prediction.

    and of course in 2009 they wrote:

    “Central England temperatures have increased by 1 °C since 1970s.”

    Which was true in 2007, but since then UK decadel averages have dropped back by as much -0.3 degC – there has been no long term warming in the CET series since 2007.

    And of course the warming rate in the CET over the period 1697 – 1739 was faster than the period from the 1970s to 2007 and went on for much longer. The current warming period would have to last continuously until 2027 to even equal the earlier warming period for length and it still doesn’t equal it for rate.

    Unprecedented? – pah!

  8. Don B permalink
    March 26, 2022 1:53 pm

    “There certainly have been much more extreme interludes. For instance the 1860s, when three months made the list.”

    In California it rained for 43 days beginning in December, 1861, “creating a huge inland sea in California’s enormous Central Valley—a region at least 300 miles long and 20 miles wide.”

    “An estimated 200,000 cattle drowned, about a quarter of all the cattle in the ranching state (the disaster shifted the California economy to farming). One in eight houses was destroyed or carried away in the flood waters. It was also estimated that as much as a quarter of California’s taxable property was destroyed, which bankrupted the state.””

    https://thelukewarmersway.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/climate-change-1861-style/

    Extreme weather events happened before humans could have caused them.

  9. dearieme permalink
    March 26, 2022 3:43 pm

    “records from between 1677 and 1960”: that means (I suspect) that a couple of the readings were taken by the boyish me. I’m a bit miffed that no use has been made of my diligence until now.

    • March 26, 2022 5:53 pm

      In Australia the best data is often from a hundred years ago, when weather stations had observers, automatic weather station data tends to be full of missing values, here is an example, monthly rainfall totals around Brisbane:

  10. Stuart Brown permalink
    March 26, 2022 7:05 pm

    Off topic, sorry, but just to remind everyone it is Earth Hour tonight at 8:30. I will be setting off a wash load as usual.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 26, 2022 9:18 pm

      There was an ISS pass just after that, almost directly overhead for those in the SW. They should have had a grandstand view with the cloudless sky. Will there be a picture worth printing in the papers?

    • John Hultquist permalink
      March 27, 2022 5:45 am

      I have a fire in the stove, so I’m good.
      However, I think this is the first time I was not aware in advance.
      There must be more important topics keeping people busy.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        March 27, 2022 2:27 pm

        I got an email reminding me that it was Power Hour last night, so while I can still afford it, I had all the lights on the ran the dishwasher and washing machine to celebrate electricity. Ironically, I had a power cut first thing in the morning.

  11. EppingBlogger permalink
    March 26, 2022 10:26 pm

    About 60 years ago I learned that an old guy in my village (then aged, say 70) had, as a child, taken a tumbrill around and sold water at a half old penny a jug.

    Hi sfather had a well that was not dry when all others in the area were dry.

    So that would be about 1890. Nothing like it has happened since.

    • EppingBlogger permalink
      March 26, 2022 10:27 pm

      Maybe 1900.

  12. JBW permalink
    March 27, 2022 9:49 am

    Just been walking round Derwent water to admire the sun rise. I was surprised to see how low the water levels were. Seems to be at odds with narrative they keep pushing.

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