Friday, 22 June 2012

Manchester- the rainy city?

I've been meaning to write this blog post for a while now- having just cycled into the office through horizontal sheets of the wet stuff, having to ford a torrent of water at every traffic light- I guess now is a good a time as any...

British summertime is notorious for chucking it down (for other beautiful British phrases for the rain, click). Despite the regularity of such torrents, it seems to surprise some citizens who love to engage in Britain's national sport, moaning about the weather. Personally like Stuart Jefferies writing in the Guardian yesterday I love the variety, unpredictability, and yes occasional (!) dampness of the British climate.

Manchester in the rain. Source: settme3 on Flickr

Right now, I can hear those of you that know me saying, well yes you are from the Rainy City so by now you have to have at least grown fond of the wet stuff, otherwise you'd have topped yourself! And herein lies the myth that so fascinates me. If you Google rainy city you will see that only one link on the first page (for Seattle) troubles Manchester's supremacy as the rainy city.  Yet Manchester in meteorological statistical terms is far from that - it averages about 810mm of rain per year and only rains 140.4 days of the year. Compare these figures with the selected locations below and you will see that Manchester's reputation as the rainy city is surely a cultural myth.

Average Annual Rainfall (mm)
Days of Rainfall

So where does this myth come from? Whilst rummaging through old weather magazines as part of my research I came across an article printed in Weather in 1947 titled, "The Manchester Myth." In this article the author attempts to trace the myth to its source. The earliest reference to Manchester's pluvial excess found is this 1898 article by, the then Director of the Meteorological Office, Robert H.Scott. Astoundingly in this 19th century article Scott is trying to disprove "absurd statements" that in Manchester hardly a day passes without rain. Rather interestingly Scott refers to a European treatise of 1881 which states that since Manchester's industrialisation the number of rainy days has increased considerably.  In debating the article a commentator states that in Manchester:

The sun is almost always obscured by smoke haze, and the smoke particles fall back to earth laden with moisture that has condensed on them, thus making the air always feel damp, the streets always grimy, and giving all the sensations of a wet day. (Source)

As yet I've been unable to trace the original 1881 reference, but it seems more than feasible that perhaps, just perhaps, Manchester's national (and now international) reputation as the Rainy City grew early in the mists of the industrial revolution when thick, damp-laden smogs lay over its mills and residents for the majority of the year.

Whilst this might get us closer to establishing why the myth arose it doesn't help us in understanding why it still persists today. Personally I like to believe its because the answer to the 1947 article's question:

Do Mancunians encourage the fiction that their city suffers from a peculiarly wet climate?

 Is an astounding, 100%, yes!


  1. I wonder what the historical averages are. Also it would be interesting to note how, if at all, the averages are changing.

    The rainy city is perhaps more aptly described as the city with a slate grey sky?

  2. The UK figures in the table are all 1975-2001 averages available on the Met Office website. I have read a few articles which state state that most UK mean rainfall figures are increasing.

    And a loverly slate grey sky it is!

  3. At the request of a reader on Facebook here is a link to Lemn Sissay's splendid poem, Rain, (3rd image) which adorns a kebab shop on the Oxford Rd in Manchester.

  4. Been trying to find out how much rain we had in Manchester this year as my garden has never been dry all year. Despite numerous searches unable to find out just how wet it has been.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Apologies for the delay in replying your comment wasn't flagged to my email for some reason.

      If you're still after rainfall figures this page from the Met Office should provide all the information you need:

      If you dig around on the pages I just linked to you can find information specific to Manchester. If you just want an overview here is a sumamry for the UK as a whole in 2012:

      Both the period April-August and November-December were exceptionally wet for many regions including Manchester.

      Hope this helps!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Manchester was a grim grimy place until they made it a smoke free zone.and industry stated to disappear in 1968. I remember gasping as I drove up Ashton New road and the Pennines almost appeared to be in touching distance. I had never seen them before, in fact I had never gone out without my raincoat.
    This though has a serious side I have been to the Far East everyone was wearing a smog mask. There are 1,000s of Manchesters belching away. If you remember that the sheep on the Isle of man turned black when the wind changed direction it makes you realise why we could have climate change. Forget CO2, though it must have an effect.Deforestation, and industrialisation must be having a terrible effect on the worlds weather systems.