Flood forecasting – the potential for the scientist and decision maker

I was struck by the presentation of Carlos Velasco-Forero at the recent EGU General Assembly when he referred to a ‘critical need to develop defensible flood forecasts’ in Australia. He mentioned the uncertainties involved when dealing with decision making when rainfall and flood forecasts rapidly unfold and the challenges associated with communicating these uncertainties with responders. So what were some of the take home points from presentations across EGU19 and how can they support the scientist and decision maker through improved flood forecasting?

PICO1

Presenting at the EGU 2019 PICO session was an excellent way to bridge the gap between science and practice in operational forecasting for different water-related natural hazards.

Integrating the disciplines of meteorological and hydrological science to improve the end-to-end framework for forecasting intense rainfall and flash flooding was presented by Linda Speight. Linda summarised the work that has been delivered as part of the recently completed NERC and Met Office funded Flooding from Intense Rainfall (FFIR) programme which included improved knowledge of catchment vulnerability to flash flooding, improved rainfall (radar) and river observations during events, improved forecasting of convection, and real time flood inundation modelling.

Taking over from FFIR as a research initiative attempting to improve flash flood forecasting is the French ANR PICS project which will run through to 2021. As presented by Olivier Payrastre, the project aims to couple the disciplines and actors involved in flash flood nowcasting, from the meteorologist through to the decision maker. The aim is to integrate short-range forecasting chains incorporating high resolution precipitation forecasts, distributed rainfall-runoff modelling across ungauged catchments, DTM-based modelling of impacts including dynamic population exposure and vulnerability.

PICO2

Presentation by Annegian Tijssen on ‘from forecast to action: a focus on end-user information needs during a disaster.’

Whilst these highlighted papers were concerned with the forecasting timescales in the short range, Louise Arnal described the potential role for seasonal forecasting in flood early warning and an ‘autopsy’ technique to understand the relative contributions of various hydro-meteorological variables.  Whilst unlikely to offer immediate operational benefit for most rivers, it did present some suitability for understanding the contribution to flooding on large-scale river systems such as the Danube. On a similar scale, Gabriela Guimaraes Nobre – who was awarded an outstanding student poster and PICO Award – described that whilst there had been great advancements in flood forecasting, it remains a challenge to provide useful impact-based forecast information and presented an approach for linking large-scale indices of climate variability and flood losses.

But back to the theme of flash flooding – Steven Boeing presented work on dealing with the uncertainties in urban scale surface water flood predictions.  As part of the iCASP initiative (Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme), work is being carried out to understand how probabilistic rainfall forecasts can be linked to high resolution hydrodynamic modelling to produce hyper-local forecasts over short lead times. One key element of the work is to understand how responders are able to respond to such complex information.

As for the Australian case study, forecasting science developments are now supporting the availability of STEPS (Short-term Ensemble Prediction System) every few minutes compared to the current operational set-up of updating the hydrological forecast a few times per day which is now providing a framework for a probabilistic approach to flood warnings. However, as Carlos concluded (and matching a theme across other hydrological forecasting presentations at EGU19), whilst increasing the resolution of flood forecast information can be seen as a positive development, it in turn creates its own challenge of where science development meets the operational reality of delivering flood forecasting services.

Developing multi-hazard early warnings across Europe

ANYWHERE (enhANcing emergencY management and response to extreme WeatHER and climate Events) is a H2020 innovation programme developing tools to support decision makers in real-time coordination of emergency management operations. Started in 2016, the programme seeks to capitalise on advances in observation systems and in forecasting models in anticipation of natural hazards such as flash floods, landslides, droughts and heat waves.

Flooding in Catalunya

Mataro near Barcelona, affected by flooding in 2016. Source: La Vanguardia

The programme includes 31 organisations from a mixture of experts from the hydrometeorological forecasting community, research scientists, early warning system developers and responders. Those from the Civil Protection Authorities are providing a valuable role in shaping the end-user product requirements of the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MH-EWS).

The recent 6th programme meeting was hosted by the Fire and Rescue Department of North Corsica: Sevice d’Incendie et de Secours de Haute-Corse (SIS2B). SIS2B have a specific role in providing emergency response to victims of accidents, incidents and have a specific interest in the developing tools to aid operational response to forest fires and are now supporting the development of a MH-EWS for the region.

With the programme set to complete in 2019, the new platforms are currently being trialled. Under the working name of ‘A4’, various regional and local pilot demos are being developed for multi hazards. The pan-European A4EU utilises ECMWF and EFAS products such as the Flash Flood Index and the Extreme Forecast Index. More regionally applied applications include modelling snow load impacts on electricity supply in Finland, modelling traffic disruption due to severe weather in Catalonia and providing early warnings to Schools due to flooding in Genoa.

One application is A4CAMPSITE which is specifically targeted at increasing self protection in campsites located in flood prone areas in Catalonia. There is a high risk of flooding for many hundreds of campsites in the region and there are several legal restrictions being based on the flood plain including ensuring all campsites have adequate flood risk plans.

The EWS is using radar rainfall nowcasting product linked to warning triggers within a self contained warning system.  These are linked to flood plans, with configurable actions (such as evacuation plans) and linked to SMS alerts for the campers.  A4CAMPSITE is being supported by new ANYWHERE partners developing innovative hydrometeorological applications and is being implemented on 13 campsites along the Tordera river with a full trial over the late-summer rainy season.

Serious Gaming for Flood Resilience

Robyn Shaw, an MSc Sustainability and Water Security research student, reflects on work to develop a serious game to help improve community flood resilience.

I am currently at the University of Dundee and as part of my course I had the pleasure to embark in a research in practice placement supporting the development of practical solutions for flood resilience.  The aim of my placement was: To develop a concept of a multi-participatory game based on reality for flood response and community flood resilience in Scotland which was fun to play.

Cascde event (picture by Cascade_net)

Civil Agency, Society and Climate ADaptation to Weather Extremes (CASCADE-NET) workshop at the University of Dundee. Source: CASCADE-NET

Serious games are interactive and fun educational tools which allow players to learn from experience in a safe environment. The niche of the game I was focussing on was learning and understanding the different channels of communication during a flood. My placement involved desk-based research, setting up and attending meetings with key individuals, for example a gaming expert, running workshops and shaping the concept of the game into a prototype.

Two workshops were held, one with flood experts with representatives from SEPA, Scottish Flood Forum and a Local Authority, and another with university research students. The concept of the serious game was played, and constructive feedback was received in a discussion to assist the development. This was analysed and eight key areas arose: name, aim, audience, timing, players, graphics, education and ethics. Alterations were made and the serious game, now known as FORECAsT, became a prototype and was successfully ran at a CASCADE-NET Emergency Response seminar.

The FORECAsT game was run to support a CASCADE-NET seminar on Civil Society and Emergency Response: conflicting discourses of dependency and empowerment, with over 40 attendees from multiple disciplines including the Scottish Government, academics, local councils, and flood experts. This was an amazing opportunity for myself and the game as it promoted integration of serious gaming as an educational tool into wider society. The attendees were grouped into a number of roles all involved in receiving flood forecasting information. The players had to decide who and how to respond and communicate with other players using post-it notes, and news headlines and social media messages.

Overall, there was a very positive response and it stimulated a lot of discussion around the topic ‘reducing dependency and enhancing empowerment’ which was the main question the game supported in the seminar. The player’s feedback highlighted that they really began to understand the different channels of communication from the perspectives of each role during flood response. They were challenged, educated and had fun acting out a real life situation but in a safe environment. This opportunity has given the game FORECAsT a great prospect, ready for the next stages of development.

Throughout the course of my placement I was given several unique opportunities and a vast amount of valuable experience which I highly appreciated. I was fortunate to have worked collaboratively with those trying to develop the game FORECAsT and I believe it definitely has the potential to be established into a functional game in the future. Overall, it was an exciting new project to work on and I learnt the importance of support from other colleagues and the main factor- to enjoy your job!

 

Forecasting and hazard early warning systems: international perspectives

Canada recently witnessed severe flooding with some river flows reporting their highest on record.  Whether this is becoming the norm or not following recent flood-rich years, delivering effective multi-hazard early warning systems is vital for enabling communities being prepared for future events.  The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was endorsed by the United Nations, encourages government agencies to support improved and effective early warning systems. So, how are agencies responding to such challenges of early warning for increased natural hazards?

Canadian-floods_2017

A man fixes a hose connected to a pump at his flooded house on Ile Bizard, Que., near Montreal, Monday, May 8, 2017. Source: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The European Geosciences Union General Assembly which took place between 23rd and 28th April in Vienna, was an opportunity to share progress and innovations in the field of forecasting and warning systems.  One PICO session brought together presentations on real-world case studies of system implementations, configured at local, regional, and national scales.

On emerging capabilities, Mikuličková presented on approaches to trans-boundary flood forecasting in Slovakia, where European scale predictions (EFAS) run alongside a local model.  Likewise, in Nepal, global predictions (GloFAS) are used in conjunction with regional Data-Based Mechanistic Modelling (DBM) techniques for community alerting.

Flood Outlook

The new flood outlook product for England and Wales. Source: Flood Forecasting Centre, Exeter.

Various approaches to flood outlooks were presented.  Pilling presented new methods for providing flood risk guidance for the month ahead in England and Wales which have been developed in response to the Winter 2015/16 floods. Thiemig presented the latest developments with the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) which include seasonal outlooks, event hazard mapping and rapid risk assessments. 

For those that have no experience of running an operational flood forecasting system, the opportunity was provided to test yourself through the interactive game for pathways to designing and running an operational flood forecasting system.  This follows a series of interactive games developed by the HEPEX community over recent years at the EGU General Assembly.

PICO session

EGU PICO session on operational forecasting and warning systems for natural hazards: challenges and innovation.

Away from the PICO session, several other talks provided some insights into global approaches in flood forecasting.  Demargne presented work in France on hydrologic ensembles based on convection-permitting precipitation nowcasts for flash flood warning.  The new system, called Vigicrues Flash, follows major flooding which occurred in France in 2010 resulting in 24 casualties and 1350 people being evacuated.  Parry presented work on data availability, limitations, and the impact of observational uncertainty for operational flood forecasting in Scotland. Finally, Dottori gave an interesting talk on satellites, tweets, forecasts and the future of flood disaster management where the use of social media is being trialled to verify flood forecasting where no data exists.

For more information on our EGU presentation on research with the University of Dundee and SEPA, please read the recent HEPEX article on ‘public perceptions of flood warnings in Scotland.