Oxford breaks 247-year rainfall record


By Ian Curtis

Large parts of England have just emerged from their wettest January since records began in 1910. But one city in the English Midlands, though its total rainfall did not match the national deluge, broke a much longer record.

OXFORD, 4 February – Weather observers at Oxford University have confirmed that the rain which fell on the afternoon of 31 January made the month the wettest since their records began almost 250 years ago. The downpour meant that the total recorded at the University’s Radcliffe Meteorological Station overtook the previous high of 138.7mm, a record which has stood since January 1852.

Parts of south-east and central southern England had already recorded twice their average rainfall – with 175.2mm -  between 1 and 28 January, breaking a century-long sequence.

But Oxford’s January rainfall of 146.9mm, though below the national figure, is nearly three times the month’s long-term average of 52.5mm.  Dr Ian Ashpole, the Radcliffe Meteorological Observer at the School of Geography and Environment, says: “It has been the very high number of ‘very wet’ days this January – rather than a few monster ones – that has led to the record. Oxford residents have had to endure consistently miserable weather conditions all month, with only one rain-free day.”

Since records began in the 1760s only 14 out of nearly 250 Januaries have had more than 100mm of rain. “This really shows how extreme this year has been”, said Dr Ashpole.

“January 2014 has been the wettest-ever of any of the three winter months of December to February. It beat the 143.3mm of December 1914, one hundred years ago. Our December-January combined total has also been a record-breaker with 244.6mm.”

Dr Ashpole measures the 10.0mm of rain that took January's total into the record books Image: Courtesy of Ian Curtis

At Green Templeton College, Dr Ashpole measures the 10.0mm of rain that took January’s total into the record books
Image: Courtesy of Ian Curtis

For those passionate about their statistics Dr Ashpole has also identified another extreme: “In the 45 days from 18 December when the rain was settling in we recorded more at the Radcliffe than for any other 45-day winter period. The total of 231.3mm was way ahead of the next nearest  – 209.4mm from 1 December 1914 to 14 January 1915 – in a database of nearly 9,000 such periods.”

January 2014 had 23 days with 2mm or more rain in a day, 14 days with more than 5mm of rain recorded and 4 days with above 10mm of rainfall. The only rainless day was 11 January.  The five previous wettest Januaries were 1852, with its 138.7mm; 1995 (131.4mm); 1948 (127.3mm); 1877 ( 115.1mm); and 1939 (112.8mm).

In a predictable cruel twist by the British weather, the formal final measurement at the Radcliffe station in Green Templeton College was made in blazing sunshine. And, despite (or possibly because of) some newspapers’ call to “bring us sunshine”, January was the 10th sunniest since records began in 1881: over 80 hours compared with the average of 54. The month was also very mild, the 15th warmest on record, with an average of 6.0°C compared with the long-term January average of 3.8°C.

The Radcliffe Meteorological Station at Oxford University possesses the longest series of temperature and rainfall records for one site in Britain. These records are continuous from January 1815, with irregular observations of rainfall, cloud and temperature from 1767. The Station is overseen by the School of Geography and Environment. It is located at the University’s Green Templeton College. - Climate News Network

Ian Curtis is on the staff of the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford