England drenched after the wettest 18 months since records began in 1836

England has experienced its wettest 18 months since records began in 1836, leaving farmers struggling to plant crops in waterlogged fields and transport networks disrupted by flooding.

Climate change has exacerbated weather events around the world, creating warmer and wetter conditions in some parts, and drier and hotter conditions in others, after last year was the hottest on record globally and second warmest for the UK.

While the UK had always had “very variable amounts of rain”, said Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, there had been a “large increase in the amount of rain that falls on the island, particularly in the wintertime, but also in the autumn and spring”.

“This is a consequence of our warming world,” Hawkins said. “As the world continues to warm in the future we would expect to see more rain falling on these islands.”

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The UK Met Office data shows the meteorological winter from the start of December 2023 to the end of February 2024 was among the wettest on record, despite January’s rainfall being 3 per cent less than average.

Rainfall measuring 445.8mm fell within the season, 29 per cent more than the long-term average. It was particularly wet in central and eastern England and Scotland, where some areas received more than one and a half times the average rainfall.

“The UK’s observations clearly show winters are getting warmer, and they are also getting wetter since as the atmosphere heats up, it has an increased capacity to hold moisture,” said Met Office senior scientist Mike Kendon.

The top 10 warmest winters on record for the UK included 2024, 2022, 2020, 2016 and 2014, Kendon noted, and the top 10 wettest also included 2024, 2020, 2016 and 2014.

“So very mild winters also show a tendency to be very wet,” he said.

The Met Office said climate projections indicated that, on average, winters would continue to become wetter in the UK and the summers drier, although there would be years that did not follow this trend.

Map of the world showing Average daily precipitation anomaly compared with 1991-2020 average in mm for Dec 13 2023 to Mar 13 2024

Many other parts of the world — including parts of South America and Australia — have also been dealing with extremely wet weather over recent months.

Farms across the UK have been devastated by heavy rain over the winter. A survey by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, a group that represents farmers and growers, found a “drastic further reduction in cropped areas”.

The wet autumn resulted in lower levels of planting, while severe weather in the winter led to further losses. The group warned that the UK would need to import more wheat than usual this year.

“Farmers still have the chance to plant crops such as spring barley and oats — but if heavy rain continues, crops will be planted at a point where they may become economically unviable,” said Helen Plant, AHDB senior analyst.

So far in March, the UK as a whole has experienced average amounts of rainfall. But England, and in particular the southern part, have seen above-average amounts for this time in the month, the Met Office said.

The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said soils across most of the UK remained saturated. “Where rainfall at the start of March has kept soils very wet, the elevated risk of flooding will continue until soils begin to dry out,” it said.

Earlier this week, London’s Paddington Station was forced to shut its underground network because of flooding as a result of heavy rain. Trains have also been cancelled in other areas, including Bristol, because of flooding this month.

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