Accurate information of rainfall is needed for sustainable water management and more reliable flood forecasting. The advances in mesoscale numerical weather modelling and modern computing technologies make it possible to provide rainfall simulations and forecasts at increasingly higher resolutions in space and time. However, being one of the most difficult variables to be modelled, the quality of the rainfall products from the numerical weather model remains unsatisfactory for hydrological applications. In this study, the sensitivity of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is investigated using different domain settings and various storm types to improve the model performance of rainfall simulation. Eight 24-h storm events are selected from the Brue catchment, southwest England, with different spatial and temporal distributions of the rainfall intensity. Five domain configuration scenarios designed with gradually changing downscaling ratios are used to run the WRF model with the ECMWF 40-year reanalysis data for the periods of the eight events. A two-dimensional verification scheme is proposed to evaluate the amounts and distributions of simulated rainfall in both spatial and temporal dimensions. The verification scheme consists of both categorical and continuous indices for a first-level assessment and a more quantitative evaluation of the simulated rainfall. The results reveal a general improvement of the model performance as we downscale from the outermost to the innermost domain. Moderate downscaling ratios of 1:7, 1:5 and 1:3 are found to perform better with the WRF model in giving more reasonable results than smaller ratios. For the sensitivity study on different storm types, the model shows the best performance in reproducing the storm events with spatial and temporal evenness of the observed rainfall, whereas the type of events with highly concentrated rainfall in space and time are found to be the trickiest case for WRF to handle. Finally, the efficiencies of several variability indices are verified in categorising the storm events on the basis of the two-dimensional rainfall evenness, which could provide a more quantitative way for the event classification that facilitates further studies. It is important that similar studies with various storm events are carried out in other catchments with different geographic and climatic conditions, so that more general error patterns can be found and further improvements can be made to the rainfall products from mesoscale numerical weather models. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.