A superhuman effort by an army of volunteers during the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in 5.2 million rainfall observations, recorded by hand on paper sheets now stored in the Met Office archives, being added to a digital national record. The record now has significantly more data for pre-1960 and has filled in what was a data black hole pre-1862. The work has revealed some record-breaking 19th century weather, which is published in a new paper, and reported by Science Daily and CIWEM.

The Rainfall Rescue project was launched by the University of Reading in March 2020 and offered members of the public a way of distracting themselves from the pandemic by digitally transcribing 130 years’ worth of handwritten rainfall observations from across the UK and Ireland.

Some 16,000 volunteers responded to the challenge, digitising 5.2 million observations in just 16 days. Ahead of the two-year anniversary of the project launch, on Saturday 26 March, these records have now been made publicly available in the official Met Office national record, extending it back 26 years to 1836.

The volunteers’ efforts have revealed some new records for extreme dry and wet months across the UK, as well as providing more context around recent changes in rainfall due to human-caused climate change.

‘Blown away’

Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and Rainfall Rescue project lead, said: “I am still blown away by the response this project got from the public. Transcribing the records required around 100 million keystrokes, yet what I thought would take several months was completed in a matter of days.

“Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, we now have detailed accounts of the amount of rain that fell, back to 1836, as seen through the eyes of other dedicated volunteers from several generations ago. To put that in context, 1836 was the year Charles Darwin returned to the UK on the Beagle with Vice-Admiral Robert Fitzroy, and a year before Queen Victoria took to the throne.

The University of Reading press release can be found here and the journal paper here.

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