People getting drenched

Soaked to the skin

27 March 2013

Overall, 2012 was the second wettest year in the UK national record, and just a few millimetres short of the record set in 2000.

The annual rainfall record for England was broken a few days before the end of 2012. At that stage, a further 46 mm of rain was needed to break the UK annual record and the media waited with bated breath for the Met Office statistics to be published early in the New Year.

In the end, 2012 was just a few millimetres short of the record set in 2000 and so became the second wettest year in the UK national record dating back to 1910. It is interesting to note that 2012 was the third wettest for Wales, 17th wettest for Scotland and 40th wettest for Northern Ireland.

Throughout the wet weather, our forecasts and warnings helped everyone across the UK plan and prepare for the worst impacts.

While November started showery and cool with frosts in some areas, milder air covered the country between the 6th and 14th. For England and Wales, the 20th to 26th November was one of the wettest weeks in the last 50 years. Some areas had up to twice the whole month's normal rainfall within a week. There was widespread flooding of transport routes and property with further damage caused by landslips. The floods and storms sadly led to several fatalities.

Together with the Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency, we warned of travel disruption and flooding. Things would have been much worse if it was not for our warnings and close team-working with the emergency response community.

Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton, Chair of the Local Resilience Forum for Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, thanked and recognised our work, saying: "The information you provided was invaluable and enabled the responders in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to prepare and respond effectively to assist our communities."

Thankfully, the last few days of November brought some relief, with colder, drier and brighter weather. A generally unsettled December began with wintry showers bringing some snow to the north and east of the UK, particularly over higher ground. A brief change to conditions then brought some colder, frostier weather.

The second half of the month was mild but very unsettled again as Atlantic fronts brought heavy rain. Rain and high winds caused disruption in some coastal areas of southern England and eastern Scotland. There was more to come with further heavy rain and widespread flooding in the run-up to Christmas.

Working closely with the Environment Agency in the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC), we advised the public to stay aware of the latest forecasts and warnings, and to be prepared for further travel disruption and flooding as the rain fell on already saturated ground. December rainfall totals for the UK overall were 150% of the long-term average, making it the wettest December since 1999 and the eighth wettest since 1910. For many people this was not good news, especially for those areas already suffering from flooding in November.

As people made their way to visit friends and family for Christmas, we issued severe weather warnings so that the public could plan ahead to take account of possible travel delays. After a thoroughly wet festive period, the soggiest parts of England and Wales had a chance to dry out early in the New Year, before colder temperatures and substantial snowfall arrived to affect many areas of the UK. Throughout the cold weather we continued to work closely with agencies across the UK to help keep the country safe, well and on the move.

Rainy days - is it getting wetter?

Rainfall in the UK has always varied because of constantly changing weather patterns. We are studying how rainfall may change over the next decade and beyond so we can advise on the frequency of extreme weather and potential flooding.

Preliminary evidence based on observations suggests that we are getting slightly more rain in total and it may be falling in more intense bursts. Annual rainfall figures show that the UK as a whole is getting wetter in recent decades. Our research also suggests that extreme days of rainfall may have become more frequent over time.

Changes in sea-surface temperatures due to natural cycles and reducing Arctic sea-ice could be influencing increases in rainfall, but more research is needed to establish the role they play. Increasing global temperatures may be another factor, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and we have seen an increase of about 0.7 °C in global temperatures since pre-industrial times. This equates to about a 4% increase in moisture in the atmosphere which means there is a greater potential for heavy rain.

Professor Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, said: "The trend towards more extreme rainfall events is one we are seeing around the world, in countries such as India and China, and now potentially here in the UK. Much more research is needed to understand more about the causes and potential implications."

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