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#PlanetPartners: Award-winning new method of assessing flood forecast accuracy could support vulnerable communities – University of Reading

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#PlanetPartners: Award-winning new method of assessing flood forecast accuracy could support vulnerable communities

Release Date 06 October 2021

Flooding in Uganda in May 2020

A University of Reading project that used flood impact reports to assess the accuracy of forecasts in Uganda has been selected as the winning entry in a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) competition. 

The entry, ‘Semi-quantitative information on flood impact for verification of flood events: Case study of Uganda’, was selected as the winner of the WMO 2nd International Verification Challenge for the best new metric using non-traditional observations. 

The team of researchers at Reading and the Walker Institute based at the University, investigated whether reports of how floods impacted communities in Uganda could be used alongside traditional river gauge observations, in regions where this data is scarce, to identify flood triggers.  

They found that non-traditional observations, such as impact reports, have the potential to be as useful as direct river level observations in evaluating how accurately a flood was forecast, and boost the amount of evidence available to do so. This can lead to verified flood warnings that could help vulnerable communities with advance preparation ahead of potential floods. 

“These warnings are incredibly valuable. They can be the difference between life and death for thousands of people caught in the path of an approaching flood." - Faith Mitheu, University of Reading PhD researcher

Faith Mitheu, a University of Reading Human Geography PhD researcher based in Kenya, who led the project, said: “Impact reports just like rainfall and river data are not perfect, but this research has shown that it is possible to verify forecasts and provide flood warnings to communities that are vulnerable to flooding even where there is a lack of traditional data. 

“These warnings are incredibly valuable. They can be the difference between life and death for thousands of people caught in the path of an approaching flood, and used to inform decisions to protect livelihoods. 

A new approach like this that makes reliable forecasts available to more people could therefore be a game changer in developing regions. 

“We are grateful to our project partners in Uganda, including the National Emergency Coordination and Operations Centre (NECOC), Uganda National Meteorological Authority, and the Directorate of Water Resources Management (DWRM) who provided the observed streamflow data. 

Informing Red Cross initiatives

The Reading team, consisting of Faith Mitheu, Elena Tarnavsky, Andrea Ficchi, looked at impact and damage data from four different disaster databases to assess the reliability of GloFAS (Global Flood Awareness System) flood forecasts from the Copernicus Emergency Management Service. 

Rather than river level dataimpact reports contain statistics and information on damage to infrastructure and crops, number of deaths and financial loss, but this provides an indication of the severity of a flood event. 

The project is informing current initiatives by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to develop flood early action mechanisms which requires verified and reliable forecast information. 

This research is part of the NIMFRU and FATHUM projects co-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), under the Science for Humanitarian Emergencies & Resilience (SHEAR) programme. 

The research scope has been extended to other East African countries to help highlight the potential and challenges of using impact data in evaluating flood forecasting systems in data-scarce areas, and provide recommendations for the use of impact data in the future. 

The WMO challenge aimed to encourage the use of alternative sources of observational data in order to evaluate forecasts and warnings and build confidence in them among decision-makers. 

The WMO judging panel commented that it was impressed with the Reading team’s use of information from a range of sources in addition to river gauges, and with the focus on impacts to give users in the country, such as farmerssome understanding of flood forecast accuracy and reliability. 

As the winners of the challenge a member of the team will be invited to present a keynote talk on their approach at the next International WMO Verification Methods Workshop. 

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