Royal Society Publishing

Evidence for trends in heavy rainfall events over the UK

Timothy J. Osborn , Mike Hulme


Daily precipitation in the UK has changed over the period 1961–2000, becoming on average more intense in winter and less intense in summer. Recent increases in total winter precipitation are shown to be mainly due to an increase in the amount of precipitation on wet days, with a smaller contribution in the western UK from a trend towards more wet days. If the wet–day amounts are modelled using a gamma distribution, then positive trends in its scale parameter are found across almost all of the UK, consistent with an increased frequency of heavy winter precipitation. Non–parametric analyses confirm an increase in the contribution of heavy events to winter precipitation totals. Analysis of multi–day sequences of heavy rainfall indicate a corresponding increase in their frequency. Results for summer show almost opposite trends: decreased precipitation totals (driven more equally by fewer wet days and reduced wet–day amounts), decreases in gamma scale parameter (although accompanied by a trend towards a less positively skewed distribution) and decreases in the occurrence of heavy precipitation (whether defined parametrically or non–parametrically). A more sparse network of weather stations with data back to 1901 suggests that the recent winter changes are unusual, while the recent summer changes are not, though the poorer coverage reduces the confidence in these longer–period results.