“Worst floods ever!” Hyperbolic reporting of weather events is nothing new; whenever the UK is hit by the latest named storm breathless news anchors often try to portray atrocious conditions as ‘unprecedented’. This may soon change thanks to a project that uses citizen science.
Operation Weather Rescue, the citizen science project which last year processed Ben Nevis and Fort William data from between 1883 and 1904, has now recovered thousands of European observations from past Daily Weather Reports compiled from 1900-1903.
Though reanalysis data of the northern hemisphere back to 1851 have been available for some years the maps don’t give enough detail to be able to compare if an old storm has the same pressure characteristics as a modern storm. Evidence of impacts is restricted to fixed observations such as temperature, rainfall and archive press reports.
Weather Rescue: “We want to learn about the frequency of intense storms in the past to compare with now and these rescued observations will significantly improve our understanding.”
The latest release of data features pressure plots from June 1903 that tie in with the record-breaking 59-hour deluge that left much of the London Borough of Redbridge underwater. The following October, nationally, was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK.
Further recovery of these archived data, with the help of thousands of volunteers, will prove invaluable to our understanding of high-impact weather, and if storms are getting worse.
This latest example of Big Data could also offer huge benefits to the insurance and reinsurance industries, as well as planning engineers, as the resolution of climate models steadily improve.
But on a purely weather reporting scale it should also be possible to one day provide the media with a quickly accessible database of weather events going back over a century, enabling them to judge whether the latest storm really is the worst in 100 years.
In this age of clickbait journalism, however, I’m not holding my breath!