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Drought first, then the deluge

The rain gods must have a wicked sense of humour. No sooner had 20 million people in southern and eastern England been banned from using hosepipes than the heavens opened.

April has seen day after day of wet and chilly weather, and heavy rain on Wednesday morning led the Environment Agency to issue eight flood warnings and 22 flood alerts across southern England.

It takes more than one heavy rain event or even a couple of weeks of rainy weather to satisfy fully the water deficit that has built up through the winter and early spring, and indeed the last couple of years.

Usually by this stage of the spring, it takes almost record amounts of rain for significant replenishment of reservoirs and aquifers because rapid plant growth and higher evaporation steal much of the water, but almost-record amounts of rain is exactly is where we are heading.

Indeed, by the end of this exceptional wet spell it is possible the reservoirs and aquifers may be in no worse a state than at the same stage last year, quite a recovery from just a few weeks ago even if still well short of normal.

Given the amount of rain so far this month, if MeteoGroup's model predictions of rainfall amounts through to the 30th come to fruition, we could be looking at one of the wetter Aprils on record averaged across England and Wales.

By the end of Thursday 94.3mm of rain had already fallen, which is 175% of April's England and Wales average of 65mm. This is particularly notable given the paucity of rain in the Aprils of 2011 and 2010: 11.6mm and 30.1mm respectively.

If predictions of at least another 40mm during the rest of the month come true, the monthly figure is likely to exceed 120mm. That has only happened in five Aprils since 1766, although two of the wettest were quite recently with 130.9mm in 1998 and 142.6mm in April 2000.

It has been a chilly month as well, and the Central England Temperature (CET) was standing at an average of 7.0C up to 25 April, which is 1.3 degrees below average and a full five degrees lower than April 2011.

We have been spoiled by relatively warm and dry Aprils in recent years, and this means that is likely to be the coldest April since 1989 and much colder than March just gone.

The last time April was colder than March was 1998 and it would be only the 14th time this has occurred since the CET record began in 1659.

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