The soggy view from UK’s oldest rain record

David Crowhurst
David Crowhurst measures rainfall in front of Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory

Last month was a particularly mucky and murky one amongst the “dreaming spires” of Oxford, as the city experienced its wettest October in 145 years.

Data collected at the Radcliffe Observatory recorded 185.3mm of rain.

Not only was that the highest monthly total observed on the site since 1875, it was also the fourth wettest of all months since records began in 1767.

The Radcliffe Meteorological Station holds the longest, continuous, single-site precipitation data-set in the UK.

Its rain gauge is positioned in a pen close to the majestic neoclassical observatory building in the gardens of Green Templeton College. And even in this age of automation, the instrument is still read by eye every morning.

Currently, this task falls to Keble College doctoral student David Crowhurst.

“We had an intense start to the month which was driven by Storm Alex, which saw 60mm falling on one day, the 3rd. That was quite something,” he told BBC News.

“But we also had 27 rainy days in the month. A rainy day is when rainfall is equal to or greater than 0.2mm per day, and those 27 rainy days are a record for an October.”

Flooding on Abingdon Road in October 1875
Punting weather: Flooding was extensive in the Oxford floods of October 1875

It pretty much rained everywhere on 3 October – not just in Oxford. The UK Met Office says that Saturday was the single wettest day for the country as a whole since daily record keeping began nationally in 1891.

Unsurprisingly with so much rain, the Radcliffe station recorded only 70.7 hours of sunshine through October – an exceptionally low number at over 30 hours below the monthly average.

Interestingly, Oxford’s all time wettest October in 1875 was accompanied by extensive flooding in the city. That wasn’t repeated last month, despite the less than 4mm difference in rainfall totals.

This may have something to do with the lower moisture content of soils following a relatively dry September. It would have meant the ground being better able to hold on to rainwater. But the absence of flooding on a similar scale almost certainly also reflects today’s improved management of watercourses.

The very wet October continues a year of exceptional weather in Oxford, following the sunniest May since records began.

As for the coming months, David Crowhurst is watching closely the developing La Niña phenomenon in the Tropical Pacific.

This is a pattern of altered pressure and winds that leads to cooler sea-surface temperatures off the western coast of the Americas. Although thousands of km away, these conditions can have a profound influence on Britain’s weather.

A strong La Niña could see some crisp clear days in the weeks ahead, followed perhaps by some more wet weather by the end of winter.

Top 10 wettest months at the Radcliffe Meteorological Station

  1. Sep 1774 223.9mm

  2. Nov 1770 192.4mm

  3. Oct 1875 189.0mm

  4. Oct 2020 185.3mm (7.3 inches)

  5. Nov 1852 175.7mm

  6. Nov 1940 175.7mm

  7. Jul 1834 174.8mm

  8. Sep 1768

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Politics Divides How Americans View Higher Education’s Response To The Pandemic

Americans are about equally divided in their opinions about whether colleges that reopened their campuses this fall for in-person attendance did the right thing. Half of those surveyed said those campuses made the right decision, and 48% indicated they didn’t, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The nation’s views on whether campus leaders made the right choice when bringing students back to campus are deeply divided along party lines. Among Republicans or people who lean Republican, 74% said in-person campuses had done the right thing, compared to just 29% percent of Democrats or individuals who lean Democratic saying the same.

The poll provides another piece of evidence suggesting how influential political forces have been in shaping colleges’ reopening plans. Other recent research revealed that campuses’ reopening decisions were linked to the political identity of their state, with both public and private universities in red states more likely to open in person.

This partisan gap is just one more example of how political affiliation influences Americans’ views of actions concerning the coronavirus more broadly. Previous Pew Research Center surveys found that Republicans and Democrats differ in their views about the severity of the public health crisis, restrictions on businesses, and mask wearing.

The new Pew survey also found that by a more than 2:1 margin, Americans believe the educational value of online courses does not equal that of in-person learning. While majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express this view, Democrats (33%) were a bit more likely than Republicans (26%) to say online classes provide an equal value.

College graduates were also particularly skeptical about on-line classes. Among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 75% believed online classes didn’t provide an equal educational value. Among those with some college education, 67% held that view, as did 64% of respondents with a high school diploma or less.

Views of Higher Education’s General Direction

The survey also included the following question: “Now, thinking about the higher education system, that is colleges and universities, in the United States today…Do you think the higher education system in the U.S. is generally going in the right direction or wrong direction?”

The answers make one thing clear: Higher education is facing a critical public. Only 41% indicated they thought higher education in the U.S. was generally going in the right direction, while a majority (56%) said it’s going in the wrong direction. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found similar concerns – only half of American adults thought colleges and universities were having a positive effect on the way things were going in the country. About four-in-ten (38%) said they were having a negative impact – up from 26% in 2012.

Partisan political identification is strongly associated with opinions about higher education. Democrats are about evenly split over the direction of higher education – about half (49%) say higher education is going in the right direction,

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