Last year was the wettest on record in England and the second wettest ever seen in the UK, the Met Office has announced.
The total UK rainfall for 2012 was 1330.7 – just 6.6mm less than the record which was set in 2000. Four of the five wettest years on record have now occurred in the 21st century.
The Met Office said that as well as an emerging trend of wetter weather in the UK, their meteorologists were also observing an increasing number of “extreme” downpours.
Last year’s heavy rain devastated harvests and led to widespread flooding which damaged more than 8,000 homes and businesses, causing the deaths of several people.
Professor Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, said: "The trend towards more extreme rainfall events is one we are seeing around the world, in countries such as India and China, and now potentially here in the UK. Much more research is needed to understand more about the causes and potential implications.”
Climate change may be a factor in the increased levels of rainfall. Global temperatures have risen by about 0.7C since pre-industrial times, which the Met Office calculate would lead to a 4 per cent rise in the level of moisture in the atmosphere, increasing the potential for rainfall.
Changing sea surface temperatures and the reducing area of the Arctic summer sea-ice could also be altering weather patterns, but scientists said more research was needed to determine the exact impact.
As well as being the wettest year on record for England, 2012 was the third wettest for Wales, the 17th wettest for Scotland and the 40th wettest for Northern Ireland. Records date back to 1910.
Met Office analysis of long-term trends showed that average annual rainfall had increased by about 5 per cent, from 1100.6mm in the period 1961-1990, to 1154mm in the period 1981-2010.
The total rainfall figure for 2012 is made all the more exceptional by the fact that year began very dry. Water companies ordered hosepipe bans in April, but the measure was followed by the wettest April to June since records began.
The National Farmers Union said earlier this week that the 2012 floods left the industry with a “£1.3 black hole” as saturated fields led to crop failures and hindered farmers’ ability to gather in harvests.
The Government has announced £120m in additional flood defence funding but has faced criticism for cutting spending on maintenance of rivers and waterways, such as dredging.