The year started with hose pipe bans and warnings of drought. It has ended as the wettest in England since records began. The Met Office said yesterday that at 1,095.8 millimetres the average rainfall across England in 2012 had already breached the previous high of 1,093mm in 2000.
With a further deluge expected over the final few days, it is also likely 2012 will be the third wettest in the UK as a whole since records began in 1910, and it still could be the wettest.
The figures came as more flood warnings were issued for the New Year period by the Environment Agency, with major rivers such as the Severn and Thames set to peak in some areas.
London’s flood defence system was activated for the first time since 2010. The Agency said it closed the Thames Barrier to prevent water flowing downstream from further up the River Thames, which has been deluged by rain for a week. More than 200 flood warnings and alerts are still in force, mainly in the Midlands, East Anglia and the south, for the next three days – 21 of which are for Wales in the next 24 hours. The ground is so saturated that even a slight rain will be enough to trigger floods, the agency said.
Heavy gales are also expected to add to the misery in the western half of the country. Travellers are being warned that train services are expected to face delays, particularly in the south east.
In Dorset, a flash of lightning is thought to be responsible for two fires which destroyed a school and a derelict hotel in Dorset. More than 55 fire fighters from three counties were called to Lytchett Minster Upper School, near Poole, which caught fire minutes after the roof of the Cliff End Hotel in Boscombe, Bournemouth, went up in flames just after 7am.
Six of the 10 wettest years in the UK have now occurred since 1998. The wettest on record is 2000 when 1,337.3mm of rain fell. It is followed by 1954 and then 2008, with 1,295mm. This year’s average UK-wide rainfall is 1,291mm, with much more than another four millimetres likely.
A Met Office spokesman said there was a chance that it could be the UK’s wettest year, although there would need to be an average of 46mm across Britain between now and 1 January.
“It is unlikely because that would have to be across the whole of Britain,” he said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out.”
He added that it was impossible to say whether the spate of wet years was due to climate change. “Britain is a wet country,” he said. “There will always be dry spells and wet spells. This year’s wet weather has been due to a buckled jet stream. Normally it is straight and pushes wet weather systems far to the north. It hasn’t done that this year.”