2012 began with predictions of widespread drought, unless heavy rain occurred. No sooner said, the heavens opened and it has hardly stopped raining since. This has led many to question whether extreme rainfall in the UK is increasing?
The UK is known for its often peculiar weather. With a temperate climate, in the past extreme weather was a rarity. It was possible though to experience snow at Easter, a period of hot weather in February and rainy summers. Extremes though were rare rather than normal.
In the 21st century there have been many incidences of extreme weather and in particular unusually heavy rainfall. In June 2007 heavy rainfall caused flooding in many areas of the UK. Weather forecasters claimed that these floods were a once in a thousand year occurrence but recent weather is proving that theory wrong.
The drought warnings issued early in 2012 were hardly spoken before rain set in, and it stayed. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics were a wash-out as far as the weather went. The seemingly non-stop rain was blamed on the jet stream, as its position had moved. In the Summer of 2012 the jet stream remained situated below the UK, albeit six miles above Earth. Normally in Summer its position is above the UK. The effect this repositioning had was to make the USA sizzle in extreme heat and the UK turn into a damp squib.
The general consensus was that the jet stream issue would resolve and normal levels of rain return. That has not proved to be the case. As the UK moved into autumn and then winter the weather did not improve. For many people in the UK it got worse and homes and businesses were flooded.
Today the BBC has reported that analysis by the UK Meteorological Office has shown that the frequency of extreme rainfall in the UK "may" be increasing. They have shied away from making a definite assessment as it is difficult to do so. Many factors play a part in our weather and cycles of weather occur.
The Meteorological Office in the UK is gathering together information relating to rainfall in the UK during 2012 and will soon announce whether or not it was the wettest year on record in Britain.
Whilst there are always some weather changes from year to year it looks as if the trend for rainfall since 1960 is an upward one. Hot and dry summers, such as those experienced in 1975 and 1976, have been rare. If this is the case though how come a drought was going to be declared early in 2012? Why were there such low stocks of water after one dry Summer, with so much rain previously?
Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office stressed that it was too early to say equivocally what the analysis indicated. More research is necessary. "We have always seen a great deal of variability in UK extreme rainfall because our weather patterns are constantly changing, but this analysis suggests we are seeing a shift in our rainfall behaviour," she said.
"There's evidence to say we are getting slightly more rain in total, but more importantly it may be falling in more intense bursts - which can increase the risk of flooding.
"It's essential we look at how this may impact our rainfall patterns going forward over the next decade and beyond, so we can advise on the frequency of extreme weather in the future and the potential for more surface and river flooding.
"This will help inform decision-making about the need for future resilience both here in the UK and globally."
Later today the BBC reported that 2012 was officially "the second wettest on record", in the UK. 1,330.7mm of rain fell, which was 6.6mm short of the record set in 2000.