Increased future flooding 'likely'
The UK experienced its second wettest year on record last year, with warnings the country faces a future of increasing downpours and floods as the climate changes.
Persistent wet weather led to rainfall of 1,330.7mm (52.4 inches) in 2012, just 6.6mm (0.26 inches) short of the highest recorded annual total set in 2000, according to Met Office records, which stretch back more than a century.
And preliminary evidence released by the Met Office suggests the UK could be getting slightly more annual rainfall than in the past and it may be falling in more intense downpours.
Almost 8,000 homes and businesses were flooded last year as drought in early 2012 gave way to repeated storms and bands of rain, with the UK seeing record-breaking monthly rainfall totals in April and June and the wettest summer in a century.
Farmers' crops were hit by the unusually wet summer, while much of the country's wildlife struggled in the poor conditions. Newly-published figures show that four out of the five wettest years ever recorded have occurred since the beginning of this century.
The top five wettest years in the records dating back to 1910 are 2000, 2012, 1954, 2008 and 2002. The UK as a whole had 15% more rainfall than average during the year, with England experiencing almost a third more rain than normal as it recorded its wettest ever year.
The official forecasters said the UK was getting wetter in recent decades, with average long-term rainfall increasing by about 5% between the periods 1961-1990 and 1981-2010. The occurrence of "extreme" days of rain, in which large amounts fall in intense downpours, also appears to have become more frequent.
The Met Office said rising global temperatures could be playing a part in increasing rainfall, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and increase the potential for heavy rain. The world has seen temperatures rise by around 0.7C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, which would equate to around a 4% increase in moisture in the atmosphere.
Changes in sea surface temperatures as a result of natural cycles and a reduction in the amount of Arctic sea ice could also be playing a role, but more research is needed to establish what their impacts were, the experts said.
Professor Nigel Arnell, Walker Institute director at the University of Reading, said last year's weather fitted a pattern which has seen rainfall increase in recent decades in many parts of the northern hemisphere. "While rainfall varies naturally from year to year and decade to decade, there is increasing evidence that the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is starting to affect rainfall across the globe," he said. "That means we are likely to see flood frequency increase further."