Work on a multi-million pound state-of-the-art rainfall radar network has now been completed.

For the first time the size and shape of raindrops and snowflakes can be captured together with wind speed data. This will lead to improvements in the accuracy of rainfall estimates, particularly when it floods.

The £10 million upgrade was jointly funded by the Met Office and the Environment Agency. The head of the Met Office Public Weather Service Derrick Ryall said: “Weather radar provides the only means of measuring the spatial extent and distribution of rainfall over a wide geographical area.

“The most intense rainfall events are often highly localised and can therefore be missed or under-sampled by rain gauge networks, and whilst their occurrence can be forecast with skill, it is often not currently possible to forecast their exact location. Radar therefore provides a crucial input to short-range weather forecasts (nowcasts) of precipitation rate, and improves the skill of weather forecasts when it is assimilated into numerical weather prediction models.”

The Met Office radar network includes 15 radars across the UK, the oldest at Hameldon Hill, near Burnley in Manchester, has been operating since 1974. The new radar will deliver five times more data, with almost a terabyte being received from each radar over the course of a year. They now record 1.8 million rainfall observations per hour per radar and can identify swarms of insects or flocks of birds over 25 miles away.

Carol Holt, deputy director for the Environment Agency, said; “This joint project with the Met Office is just one of the many exciting ways the Environment Agency is making the most of new technology to prepare for and respond to floods.

“The quality and reliability of the data we are getting from the new radars is significantly improved and will help us to provide more accurate flood forecasts and issue flood warnings earlier. This means people have more time to prepare when flooding is expected – so please check whether your home is at risk and sign up to receive our free warnings.”