Results from weather@home 2014 UK Flooding Experiment: climate change makes very wet winters ‘a bit more likely’
Our recent weather@home 2014 UK Flooding experiment, that assessed the effects of global warming, has found a small but statistically significant increase in the probability of extremely wet winters in southern England.
Following preliminary assessments from the Met Office, Oxford University researchers undertook the first scientific experiment to analyse whether the risk of extreme rainfall has changed due to climate change after the winter deluge between December 2013 and February 2014. Total rainfall in Oxford over the three months was the highest ever recorded by the University’s Radcliffe Observatory since it set up 200 years ago.
We used the spare capacity on volunteers’ home computers to compare tens of thousands of simulations of possible weather in our present-day climate with tens of thousands of simulations of a hypothetical world without the influence of past greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere using the same climate model. Comparing numbers of extremely wet winters between these two groups provides estimates of the influence of climate change on the UK weather.
We found a 1-in-100-year winter rainfall event (ie. 1% risk of extreme rainfall in the winter of any given year) is now estimated to be a 1-in-80 year event (i.e. 1.25% risk of extreme rainfall in any given winter) so the risk of a very wet winter has increased by around 25%. This change is statistically significant thanks to the number of computer simulations we were able to run– over 33,000 computer models run in the experiment.
However, while our finding is statistically robust the result depends on how man-made climate change is represented in the experiment. We used different climate models to estimate the pattern of global warming which provided a range of possible changes in risk. In several cases, the models gave no change or even a reduction in risk, but overall the simulations showed a small increase in the likelihood of extremely wet winters in the south of England.
The experiment for the weather@home project, based at the University’s School of Geography and the Environment, started in March 2014. The winter deluge affected large parts of south England and Wales and as a consequence, large areas were flooded, some more than once during the three-month period. This led to a good deal of public debate, which at one point involved Prime Minister David Cameron, about whether the extreme rainfall and resulting floods could be linked to climate change.
Researcher Dr Friederike Otto, from the weather@home project based in the University’s School of Geography and the Environment, said: ‘It will never be possible to say that any specific flood was caused by human-induced climate change. We have shown, however, that the odds of getting an extremely wet winter are changing due to man-made climate change. Past greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution have “loaded the weather dice” so the probability of the south of England experiencing extremely wet winters again has slightly increased.’
She added: ‘Total winter rainfall, although useful as a benchmark, is not the direct cause of flood damage, so we are working with collaborators, such as the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, to explore the implications of our results for river flows, flooding and ultimately property damage. ’
Anyone who wants to join the project or volunteer spare time on their home computer should go to our Getting Started page.
Graphs displaying the results of the weather@home project can be viewed on our Results page.
Watch Professor Myles Allen speaking about these results at a press conference at the EGU General Assembly [Myles speaks at 23 minutes into the video].
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The weather@home project is part of a larger research project called climateprediction.net, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) via various research projects. The project is also supported by EUCLEIA, an EU-funded project which will study the attribution of weather and climate risks for Europe; the Met Office; and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the UK.« Back to News