Rain, rain, rain: Just why is it so wet this year? When on earth is it going to stop?

Watery facts of Summer '93

Britain's wettest September since 1976.

Second wet summer in a row. After last year, it was the wettest summer for 25 years.

Floods this year in the United States, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Australia, north Africa, South Africa, China, Japan, Venezuela, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland.

In 24 hours from Friday morning, Gatwick had more rain than it usually gets in a month.

Floods yesterday in parts of Surrey. Yorkshire and London also saw floods this summer.

Reservoirs are 30 per cent fuller than in 1990.

It rained on St Swithin's Day, traditional herald of a wet summer.

Forecast: today, dry at first, rain later. For the week: rain.

DOWN and down it has come, drowning the fetes and wedding receptions, soaking the sports days and football matches, trapping children indoors, drenching washing on the line and turning every journey into a miserable, chilly douche.

It finds the broken tiles in the roof and the hole in your shoe; it trickles down the back of your neck and through the car window that has been left slightly open; it swills in gutters clogged with leaves and leaps up at you as the bus goes past. Whether you linger or make a dash, it drowns you. It is rain - torrential, sloshing British rain.

By any measure we are having a very wet time. Rainfall for England and Wales last month was 44 per cent up on average. For East Anglia, a notoriously dry region, it was 72 per cent above normal. The London Weather Centre confirmed yesterday that it was the wettest September since 1976.

In fact, according to the Institute of Hydrology in Wallingford, for most of us it has been the wettest summer since . . . last summer. Terry Marsh, who looks after the national water archives there, says: 'The summer half-year from April to September has been unusually unsettled. With the exception of last year, it was the wettest April to September period for 25 years in parts of the English lowlands.'

Yes, we have had two in a row. What price now Mr Marsh's ''hydrologically stressed' (dry) summers of 1989 and 1990? Gone are the dry rivers and reservoirs, the hose-pipe and car-wash bans. They are history, swept away by the relentless months of inundation.

Somerset Maugham had the words for it: 'It was unmerciful and somehow terrible; you felt in it the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It did not pour, it flowed. It was like a deluge from heaven . . . It seemed to have a fury of its own. And sometimes you felt that you must scream if it did not stop, and then suddenly you felt powerless, as though your bones had suddenly become soft; and you were miserable and hopeless.'

It is not just Britain. It has been raining in Italy, where storms swept across the Ligurian coast, killing six. It has been raining in France, Germany and Switzerland. Torrential rain hit Japan in August and the American Midwest in July, causing floods of biblical proportions when the Mississippi burst its banks. And yesterday, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, scene of last week's earthquake, heavy rain was disrupting the rescue work.

What is going on? Could these events be somehow related? If you subscribe to chaos theory, the branch of mathematics that attempts to make sense of the unpredictable, you might believe they are. Chaos theory tells us that a single flap of a butterfly's wing in Australia can cause the necessary air turbulence to trigger a thunderstorm in Teddington. Causes may be so remote and apparently insignificant that they are probably beyond our comprehension.

Chaos theory, however, does not cut much ice in the saloon bar. There, conversation often blames our weather woes on Mount Pinatubo, the volcano in the Philippines that erupted in 1991. It certainly caused extensive climatic disturbances, but according to Professor Brian Hoskins, a meteorologist at Reading University, its effects should by now have died off. Likewise, El Nino, the warm Pacific current that occasionally provokes monsoons and storms by flowing in the wrong direction, is unlikely to be to blame this time, he says.

And the storms over the American Midwest? Could they be responsible? 'There are connections across the globe,' says Professor Trevor Davies, director of climate research at the University of East Anglia. 'We can't look at chunks of the atmosphere in isolation. But you can't make a direct connection, saying that if it's wet in north America it's going to be wet here.' So what do we know? Britain, being surrounded by water, has a maritime climate. If there is wind, it has come over the sea. At this time of year the sea is relatively warm, which means that there is more moisture in the air above it, and this is carried in by the winds. When these moving air masses reach land they rise and cool quickly. The result is condensation - and rain.

This happens every summer. Why it should have rained so much this summer is less easily explained. Normally, after one wet air mass has dumped its load and passed on, there is an opportunity for high pressure to build up. This warms things up and, for a while, repels further threatening wet masses. This year, in simple terms, the high pressure has usually been somewhere else, so wave after wave of moisture-laden air has washed over us. (Greece, meanwhile, has been basking in sunshine. As Professor Hoskins puts it, 'One person's bad weather is another person's good weather'.)

It has also been cooler than usual. This is because there has been a tendency towards higher than normal pressure over the Arctic and Greenland, and lower than normal pressure over northern Russia and Scandinavia. Taken together, this has led to frequent streams of cool, northerly winds over Britain.

If all this seems unsatisfactory, it is no accident. Meteorologists are reluctant to admit what the wet pedestrian feels in his bones: that there has been a pattern to this summer's weather.

They insist, for example, that August was a relatively dry month. Tim Palmer, at the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, offers an explanation that is not an explanation: 'I think what we're seeing is just a manifestation of the chaotic nature of the atmosphere.'

In much of the world, of course, they are delighted when it rains, and there was a time when they would do almost anything to make it do so. In The Golden Bough, J G Frazer's classic survey of ritual and superstition published 70 years ago, he wrote at length about rain-dances, rain-songs and rain-birds, all thought capable of bringing showers to water the crops and fill the wells.

It may be a measure of the distance that now removes us from nature that we should have come to resent rain so much. For all its life- giving powers, it has become nothing but a nuisance to urban man, who gropes around for someone to blame - the Meteorological Office has received a steady stream of complaints this summer. But this year even rural man is unhappy. Farmers need rain, but not in these quantities or at this time of year. It causes fungal diseases and moulds, spoils fruit, flattens wheat and makes harvesting a nightmare.

Can we do anything about it? J G Frazer also wrote of societies where rain was abundant and rites were performed to prevent it. In the north Indian region of Kumaon, for example, 'a way of stopping rain is to pour hot oil in the left ear of a dog. The animal howls with pain, his howls are heard by Indra, and out of pity for the animal's suffering the god stops the rain'.

Science has taught us that we cannot comprehend the weather, or control it. We can conquer distance and disease, shatter atoms and tinker with genes, but we cannot stop the rain. Even the Russians, with their famous cloud-seeding techniques, could not save Michael Jackson's Moscow concert from a wash-out last month.

This powerlessness contributes to our frustration, but there are also clinical reasons to feel miserable. Doctors now recognise a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depressive illness associated with abnormal sleep patterns. It is believed to result from irregular production of the hormone melatonin, which is controlled by the amount of light entering the eyes. Usually it occurs in winter, when the days are short and often cloudy, but this summer has given it an excuse to strike early: the number of sunshine hours in September was about half the average for the month.

It can hit us in our pocket, as well as our health. The farmers are a case in point, as are the builders, whose sites come to resemble the Western Front. Insurers don't like it either - roofs leak, there are floods and there are more accidents.

Some industries are surprisingly resilient. Incoming tourism, for example, has been largely unaffected, because, as the English Tourist Board says, 'Overseas visitors certainly don't come to England for the weather'. But rain does send British holiday-makers in the other direction. With the modern trend towards late booking, people can have a taste of the British summer before they make their choice between Torbay and Mykonos; this year it was no contest.

And then there are our water companies, as usual on the wrong side of public opinion. 'We're very pleased,' says Thames Water. 'We like this sort of prolonged period of rain. We're miserable buggers really.' Umbrella sales are up. T Fox and Co of Threadneedle Street, retailers to the City gent, report a doubling of sales, many of their products doubtless finding their way to the British Rail lost property department at Charing Cross, where takings have also doubled.

The ducks, famously, like it. Not because they enjoy being rained on, but because it releases seeds from the grass for them to eat. And then there are the slugs and snails, which suffered badly in the recent dry summers. Watch them now, slipping in their hundreds across the wet, unmown lawns of Britain, having the time of their lives.

What everyone wants to know, however, is when it will stop. Dave Cullum at the Met Office can't tell you. 'There is not a soul on earth who knows. It could change in a week. It is possible to end up with a warm, dry October . . . but there is no sign of it yet.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick