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Stuck at home? Help climate scientists solve mystery of British rain – University of Reading

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Stuck at home? Help climate scientists solve mystery of British rain

Release Date 26 March 2020

Members of the public can help digitise paper documents with rainfall measurements

Citizen scientists are being asked to join a mission to salvage British rainfall records dating back 200 years, in the biggest ever project of its type.

The Rainfall Rescue project, run by Professor Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading, is aiming to fill the huge gap in UK digital weather records between the 1820s and 1950s by inviting members of the public to transcribe observations made long before the age of computers.

The extra detail this offers will allow scientists to better understand why certain parts of the UK are wetter or dryer than others at different times, and look at long-term trends and historical patterns.

Professor Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science at NCAS and the University of Reading, said: “With much of the population facing long spells indoors due to the COVID-19 virus, the chance to be part of a serious science project may provide a welcome distraction.

“We’re set to reach back further than ever in time to rescue millions of pieces of UK rainfall data that are currently going to waste in filing cabinets. These records will help scientists better understand how and why rainfall varies so much in different locations across the UK.”

There were several thousand rain gauges in the UK in the 1950s, but digital data is only available for a few hundred, with the rest still on paper and stored in the National Meteorological Archives. The Rainfall Rescue project aims to extend the dense digital record of monthly rainfall measurements and information on locations available since 1961 back to the 1820s.

The data will then be made freely and openly available, allowing scientists to analyse the data using computer models, and look in more details at years they believe were unusually wet or dry. Of particular interest to scientists are extreme years, such as the 1921 drought and the very wet summer of 1912.

The project also has the potential to help water companies make better plans by testing their current systems against real extreme historic conditions.

Rainfall Rescue aims to digitise twice the amount of data as the three previous Weather Rescue projects led by Professor Hawkins combined. These earlier projects also recruited the public to transcribe historic measurements, from records taken at a remote weather station atop Ben Nevis, to early Victorian records in partnership with the British Science Association.


To get involved in Rainfall Rescue, visit

Join the discussion with other citizen scientists by following #WeatherRescue on Twitter

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