April deluge sets new record for university centre

Helen Pearce checks rainfall at Oxford University’s Radcliffe Meteorological Station, in the shadow of the historic Radcliffe Observatory, a tradition which dates back to 1815

Helen Pearce checks rainfall at Oxford University’s Radcliffe Meteorological Station, in the shadow of the historic Radcliffe Observatory, a tradition which dates back to 1815

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Didcot and Wallingford. Call me on 01865 425425

IN 1767 astronomers at Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory used quill pens to record weather readings in large leather-bound ledgers.

Fast forward 245 years and climate change student Helen Pearce takes daily readings at Britain’s oldest weather station with her smartphone.

Oxford University has been collecting rainfall and temperature data for longer than anywhere else in the country.

The readings were taken at the observatory until the nearby Radcliffe Meteorological Station took over about 80 years ago.

With heavy rainfall one moment and a tornado the next, Oxfordshire’s weather is certainly topical.

Miss Pearce’s readings for the past month prove what many already suspected – April was the wettest month in Oxford’s history.

The 142mm (5.6in) of rainfall beat the previous record, from April 2000 by about 5mm.

The 25-year-old Keble College geography graduate is studying for a PhD in East African climate change.

She has worked at the meteorological station, in the grounds of Green Templeton College, in Woodstock Road, for the past three years.

She got the job of monitoring the weather through her tutor Prof Richard Washington, who is professor of climate science at the university.

She said: “This is the oldest weather station in the country and I’m pleased to be part of that history.

“I don’t know how many previous observers there have been but each person probably does the job for about three or four years at a time.

“In one 48-hour period in April we had nearly 40mm of rain, which was an awful lot. It was the first really unusual month we have had since I took over the recordings.

“The Met Office supplies our equipment and I record rainfall, air temperature and ground temperature measurements. I record the stats on my smartphone and then put them on the computer.

“The computer records go back to the mid-1980s but before that the records were kept on big ledgers. There has been a lot of rain lately but it really doesn’t bother me – it only takes me about half an hour to take the measurements every morning.”

The doctoral student at the university’s school of geography empties a rain gauge into a measuring tube at the same time each day of the year and reads temperatures from a number of thermometers.

When she’s not available PhD student Ian Ashpole takes her place.

The station records are continuous from January 1815, six months before the end of the Napoleonic Wars at the Battle of Waterloo, but irregular observations of rainfall, clouds and temperature were made as far back as 1767.

In 1772 Dr Thomas Hornsby, then the Savilian Professor of Astronomy, approached the Radcliffe trustees for funds to set up an astronomical observatory. He made irregular weather recordings between 1767 and 1810, when he died.

Prof Washington said: “Some of the research conducted by the school of geography is aimed at figuring out whether extreme weather, which we saw last month, can be attributed to the human influence on climate.”

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