When it rains, it pours!

Rainfall at my weather station for first half of 2012

Rainfall at my weather station for the first half of 2012, alongside 1971-2000 averages for the Met Office’s station at Bedford. See how we caught up once the hosepipe ban kicked in! (Click to see full size.)

Can you guess when the hosepipe ban started? It was on the 5th of April. By the end of April we were catching up with the cumulative average. I guess we should all be joyous that the rains have finally come, and we aren’t running low any longer. It’s about time too!

So, to backtrack a bit. Dr Turnip got me a fancy-pants weather station for Christmas (the one he wanted to buy was out of stock, so he went for the next one up!), and so I am now able to plot up my extremely local weather data, which has been collected on the very non-standard roof of our canal boat. Despite being a pretty cool bit of kit, it’s not a very good location for collecting weather data as the boat rocks about a bit, and the boat will radiate heat and reflect light from the roof, and the marina is surrounded by trees, which deflect the wind.

So, every quarter (ish) I download the data and take a quick look. As we were in drought earlier in the year, and then we had such a lot of rain more recently, I thought I’d plot it up and share. The graph shows cumulative rainfall from my rough-and-ready weather station since January. I was a bit negligent and didn’t download the data in time, so there’s a gap in April where the data was over-written. I’ve also plotted up the Met Office 1971-2000 monthly averages for their Bedford station (which can be found at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/averages/19712000/sites/bedford.html). This shows that in the first three months of 2012, here in the south east of England we were much drier than usual. Then the hosepipe ban came into force of 5th April, and everyone started sacrificing their lawns, flower beds and car hygiene in the name of the rain god.

Then in April, we started to see more rain than average, which was totally unrelated to the sacrificial lawns, I’m pretty sure. (NB the totals in my plot are a bit off for March and April because of my lost week which fell over the 1st April. Hah! What a fool I am.) My total for 23 March – 30 April was 90mm. This would equate to about 71mm for a 30 day period, and the average for April in Bedford is 47mm — so we got 50% extra free this April! Bargain!

The River Great Ouse overspilling

I took this photo in Bedford on 2 May 2012. This tree is not usually in the middle of the river… that was down to the bonus rainfall we had in April.

And then May was only slightly above average. But then June. Well. We got 66% extra free. That’s 66% more than usual. And it really felt it. And lo – we caught up with and surpassed the average year-to-date rainfall. Sounds good, right? Not entirely. As you can see from my photo above, the River Great Ouse in Bedford burst its banks. Luckily, we didn’t have it too bad here. Others in parts of the UK had their homes and possessions ruined by flooding, and some poor souls even lost their lives. This kind of unusual weather means that we often aren’t prepared to deal with it. And if this kind of thing is going to become more common, we’ll have to adapt. (One reason why I live in a boat!) But the $64,000 question (in fact, it’s worth a whole lot more than that) is: is our climate is changing to one that has more of these extreme weather events? Only time will tell for sure. But one thing I can say for sure now: by then, the damage will already be done.

That ends on a a bit of a downer. So to pick things up again, check out this article and cool video: http://www.channel4.com/news/met-office-rain-plane-on-course-to-chase-storms. It’s about some work that people are doing using the UK’s atmospheric research aircraft, which I have done/will do field work on. Lots of people are working on finding out more about severe weather and predicting it (not me though). So things aren’t all doom and gloom!

As light as a paper wasp nest

So a few months back, Dr Turnip (aka Mr Civiltalker) returned from the shed with a precious gift. It was the wonderfully delicate nest of a paper wasp, pictured below. I was quite astonished by it, as I had no idea what it was and had never seen one before. But luckily, Dr Turnip being a life-scientist, knew exactly what it was when he saw it attached to a folded up wooden chair.

Paper wasps make their honeycomb-shaped nests out of wood (or other fibres) mixed with their saliva — hence the name paper. They are very light and quite amazing to look at. Soon after we took the photos, our find blew out of the side hatch and landed in the water, it was quite literally (and I do mean “literally”) as light as a feather. When I reached down to the water to retrieve it before it floated away, the wet part had gone sticky and gluey — rehydrated wasp saliva!

The cells of this nest are open, and contained no eggs (this was back in May), so we may have robbed a potential wasp family of their home. As there were only a few cells, I am guessing that it was unfinished. Individual eggs are laid in each cell of the nest, and the larvae are fed other insects by the queen. When they are ready to pupate (turn into a pupa), they seal over their cell, from which they will emerge some weeks later as adult wasps.

We used to have a wooden garden table and chairs, which we left outdoors when we lived in London. That got stripped of its outer fibres by paper wasps, and it looks like wooden items in the shed might also be at risk of the same fate. If you notice wooden items going a bit splintery, and seem to have sectioned being stripped off, maybe it’s paper wasps harvesting your furniture too?

Thanks to Colorado State University for the background info on paper wasps. Dr Turnip knows a lot more interesting stuff about wasps and their social lives, but I’ll leave that for another time. If you know about paper wasps and wish to add anything, then post a comment below!