Weather is a lifelong British obsession, with some of the country’s record rainfall and temperature records dating back centuries. Some of this data has been invaluable in producing detailed pictures of the UK climate, which has influenced the computer models used to predict climate change.
But part of it is still effectively unusable because it is stuck in reams of old-fashioned paper documents. Now scientists at the University of Reading are planning to save those obscure rain gauge records, using citizen scientists to do the job. They hope the hundreds of people currently trapped indoors with little else to do will be inspired to join us in helping digitize precipitation data for use by meteorologists and climate experts.
Under the Rescue in case of rain project, volunteers will fill the gaps in British digital weather records between the 1820s and the 1950s by transcribing observations from scans of old paper records.
“We are about to arrive in time to retrieve millions of UK precipitation data that are currently wasted in filing cabinets,” said Ed Hawkins, professor of climatology at the National Center for Atmospheric Science and the ‘University of Reading. âThese recordings will help scientists better understand how and why precipitation varies so much in different parts of the UK. With much of the population facing long periods indoors due to Covid-19, the chance to be part of a serious science project can provide a welcome distraction. “
Thanks to Britain’s weather obsession, there are records of several thousand rain gauges located across the country since the 1950s alone, but only a few hundred have been digitized so far.
The changeable climate in the UK, which scientists recently suggested was responsible for obscuring some of the impacts of the climate crisis as impacts in other parts of the world are increasingly evident, makes it crucial to understand why parts of the UK are wetter or drier. than others and to discern long-term trends.
For example, the extreme years – a one-year drought in 1921 and the notoriously wet summer of 1912 – can tell scientists a lot, and their understanding will be greatly improved if meteorological sources from those years can finally be consulted. Water companies and government planners will also benefit, as the resilience of current systems can be compared to actual historical conditions.
This is the largest project of its kind to date, and Hawkins hopes to amass as complete a recording as possible from the 1820s through the 1960s, when digital recordings began. There have been three previous weather rescue projects, in which volunteers transcribed measurements from a weather station atop Ben Nevis and the earliest records from the Victorian era.