Official reports of rainfall in Britain date back to a year before Queen Victoria ascended the throne, thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers who, while at home during Kovid, were united by their passion for a very British concern: the weather.
It all started when Ed Hawkins, a climatologist at the University of Reading in England, published call for help rewriting more than 65,000 manuscript journals of monthly rainfall spanning three centuries, from across Britain and Ireland.
The writing in the records was too irregular to be machine-readable; human eyes were needed. More than 16,000 people responded to Dr. Hawkins’ request, and together they lived the task for just over two weeks.
That was two years ago, during Britain’s first coronavirus blockade. Now the National Weather Agency, the Meteorological Bureau, has processed 3.3 million data points from decrypted pages and added them to its national precipitation statistics, enriching the official record with numerous observations and expanding it to 1836. Among the recently digitized information is a fresh detail about the curious weather of 1852, when an exceptionally dry spring was accompanied by severe floods in November and December.
“If the weather, which brought us so much rain in 1852, would happen again, there would probably be more rainfall on our island because we live in a warmer world,” Dr. Hawkins said in an interview with Reading. Having better information about past extremes can help strengthen our defenses against future ones, he said.
Dr Hawkins and a group of volunteers and other researchers talk about how they processed and cleaned up the data in a study published Friday in Journal of Geographical Data.
“We almost didn’t scratch the surface” of what can be learned from the British climate archives, he said. “The United States also has huge archives in the NOAA that have not yet been studied as fully as they could,” he added, referring to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Meteorological Bureau knew the value of the data old rainfall logs when he scanned them in 2019, said Catherine Ross, the agency’s archivist and author of the new study. But it was only thanks to volunteers during the 2020 blockade, said Dr. Ross, that the richly decorated, sometimes idiosyncratic, handwritten information became useful for scientific analysis.
Records begin in 1677 with measurements from scattered observers. Until 1860, data collection was coordinated by the British Rainfall Organization, which later became part of the Meteorological Office. More people joined: ordinary citizens, clergy, wealthy landowners, who entrusted this task to gardeners and gardeners. This last category apparently included royal persons: among the archives there are testimonies of precipitation from Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Sandringham House.
“This is the Victorian age: people want to monitor, measure, understand statistics in much more detail,” said Dr. Ross. “There is a growing understanding of ‘We can collect observations and do something with them.'”
In notes they kept with precipitation logs, registrars disclose the care they put into the task and some problems. Rev. W. Borlas of the village of Ludjwan, Cornwall, added this footnote to his reading for October 1770: “The reception box is quite full. Maybe moved. I don’t know. “
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Observers documented various humiliations that their rain gauges visited: child vandalism; clogging of bird’s nests; damage by tourists, lawn mowers and ponies. The monks of Belmont Abbey, in Herefordshire, noted a bullet hole in their caliber in 1948. At one psychiatric hospital in the 1950s, recording was suspended for more than two years because the sensor was “hidden by prisoners.”
During World War II, a 1944 magazine noted that the rain gauge had been “destroyed by enemy action.” In the village of West Ayton, the registrar concluded the reading in 1949 with a commentary “too old to worry.”
Once the records were rewritten, the data had to be organized to the exact location. This created its own problems. Notes to one rain gauge in Scotland describe it only as “in a valley among the hills”.
Dr. Hawkins is perhaps best known for his creation climatic zones, a way to visualize global warming. He is now engaged with another internet project to transcribe weather observations made by sailors crossing the globe in the mid-19th century. This is part of a broader initiative, GloSAT, which aims to expand surface temperature records worldwide – on land, ocean and ice – to the 1780s. At the moment, most world temperature records date back to the 1850s.
More information could help scientists better understand the Earth’s climate before the Industrial Revolution and the accompanying large-scale carbon emissions from human activities. It could also learn more about how the climate reacted to several huge volcanic eruptions in the early 19th century, including Mount Tambora, in present-day Indonesia, which cooled the planet and caused the so-called “year without summer”. ”
“We didn’t have a really big one, probably from Tambor in 1815,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Probably we overdue one. And so it would probably be very useful to understand the consequences of such an eruption ahead of time. “