Rain in the UK: myths, data, and the wettest cities

rain
Photo: Hamed Parham

It’s only too well known that the British isles tend to get quite a bit of rain. Whether you’re coming for a visit or to live here, your mother won’t forget to remind you to bring an umbrella and a jacket. But does it really rain that much in the UK?

I saw the following infographic on the rainiest cities and it inspired me to write this article.

grafic pluja

First of all, we can clearly see that London isn’t in the Top 10! But of course many people confuse London with England, or, like my mother, with the entire UK.

Before I continue, I’d like to thank MetOffice for this wonderful map, which shows rain accumulated annually throughout the United Kingdom, with data from the past 30 years. Because a picture is worth a thousand words…

lluvias acumuladas
Annual rain accumulation

Leaving aside Scotland, which is the wettest, coldest, and cloudiest region in all of the UK, from this image we can quickly draw a conclusion that surprised me: it doesn’t matter so much whether you’re in the north or south – the difference is greater between the east and west.

The annual rain count for Wales is very high, mainly in the central areas. But we can also see that in England, Cornwall and Devon, the most touristy and “summery” areas, get double the amount of rain that London and the east of the country do.

Contrary to how the world sees it, there are parts of English that are actually surprisingly dry. London receives less rain per year than Rome, Sydney, or New York City. Essex, Cambridgeshire and parts of northern Yorkshire, East Riding in Yorkshire, Suffolk and Norfolk are some of the driest spots in the United Kingdom, due to the rain shadow effect.

In some years, the annual totals of rain in Essex and the south of Suffolk have been under 450mm, especially around Colchester, Clacton, and Ipswich. This is less than the average annual precipitation in Jerusalem or Beirut.

Where does it rain most?

Thinking objectively, if when you’re moving to a foreign country and you don’t care about the city where you’ll have your new adventure, this question makes sense. Some southern Europeans arrive in the UK to make new future for themselves, but in a few months (once winter has set in), they spend days complaining to their friends about how bad a time of it they’re having with the rain, days without seeing the sun, the cold, the wind, blah, blah blah…

So you don’t have this traumatic experience, here’s a table showing annual precipitation (in millimetres) that I’ve made, showing various zones and cities in the United Kingdom, to which I’ve added Spanish cities for better comparison. This way you’ll be warned ahead of time. 😉

The average number of rainy days in the UK is approximately 130: it rains one out of every three days.

Días Lluvia

Lugar

mm

183

Princetown, Dartmoor Park

1998

198

Oban

1681

205

Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

1249

128

SANTANDER

1246

167

Glasgow

1245

171

Aberystwyth

1217

128

BILBAO

1195

149

Cardiff

1152

149

Tenby

1111

183

Londonderry

1027

155

Newquay

1017

131

A CORUÑA

1008

146

Blackpool

883

138

Aberdeen

866

158

Belfast

861

122

Exeter

848

132

Sheffield

835

143

Manchester

829

115

Brighton (Eastbourne)

795

126

Edinburgh

730

122

Dundee

691

125

Birmingham

681

134

Forres

665

116

Oxford

660

122

Newcastle

651

55

BARCELONA

640

136

Bristol

627

116

Ipswich

614

110

London

592

113

Grimsby

588

108

Cambridge

568

52

SEVILLA

534

44

VALENCIA

454

63

MADRID

436

37

ALICANTE

336

Some conclusions:

  • If you come from Norte de España (Bilbao, Santander o Galicia), you’ll adjust easily to the British climate. El norte de la Península Ibérica has a similar number of rainy days and amount of precipitation as in the British annual figures.
  • It rains more in Barcelona than in London, if you ignore the number of days it rains.
  • We saw this in the first image, but it continues to surprise me that the famously wet Manchester has a better climate than Cardiff.

This article could end here, but I found these two maps, which might shed a little more light on the kind of rain throughout the country.

The following map shows the average number of days when it rains more than 0.2mm (that is to say, just a few drops…).

dias lluvia
Days with >0.2mm rain (1981-2010)

With little more than 0.2mm of rainfall, you’ll see it’s very common for not to carry an umbrella! People in the UK just get wet. Why? Because lugging an umbrella around all the time is annoying and if the weather forecast hasn’t predicted an apocalyptic flood, the British assume it’ll rain at some point, and if they get caught in it… they’ll get a little wet and move on with their lives.

After almost three years, for rainy days when I would wear a raincoat in Barcelona, in the UK I don’t even bother looking for an umbrella. In the end, you’ll get used to it or do things indoors.

Of course, there’s also the other side of the site. Where does it rain hardest? This map shows the rainy days with more than 10mm of rainfall.

dias lluvia 2
Days with >10mm rain (1981-2010)

As always, Wales and Scotland are a different kettle of fish, but the data show that in London there are between 15 and 20 days of “major” rain a year. In Bristol we have less than 25, not all that different from what you’d expect in Manchester.

Quantity and quality

While we’re on the subject of complaining about UK weather, it’s important to remember that you can’t please everyone, and that it depends a lot on two factors: the total number of rainy days and the total quantity of water we have to put up with.

I hope you enjoyed this. 🙂 Leave a comment with your personal experience!

If you’re curious to know how the British Meteorological Office measures all the rain, you’ll find the video here:

Sources:

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