Major advances in predicting storms causing flooding
28 August 2002
Heavy rainfall and floods are important disruptive natural hazards with worldwide social and economic impacts.
The flood damage across Europe that occurred this August is put at billions of pounds. Experts from around the world are examining major scientific developments in storm and rainfall forecasting from 2 to 6 September 2002, at an International Conference organized by the Royal Meteorological Society at the University of Reading, under the WMO World Weather Research Programme (WWRP).
Members of the press are invited to a Press Briefing on Friday 6 September 2002 in the Palmer Building at the University of Reading. There will be refreshments from 10.00 followed by brief presentations by leading scientists and an opportunity for questions. Lunch will be available from 1300. Press packs and access to a press room will be available.
UK scientists are carrying out research to find ways of improving the skill of storm forecasting for flood prediction. If more accurate rainfall forecasts could be given - up to six hours ahead of the expected time of impact - householders, businesses and flood protection agencies, such as the Environment Agency, would have more of a chance to take steps to reduce the amount of damage caused.
Significant progress has already been made and scientists now have much greater abilities to observe and predict rainstorms. Emerging technologies - from the modelling of non-linear fluid dynamics to Doppler radar observations - offer the promise of a breakthrough.
The UK rainstorm programme is being spearheaded by the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) Centres for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), in partnership with the Met Office and other agencies.
Their research will also help to answer questions such as 'What are the chances of the UK being hit by extreme rainfall, as it was in autumn 2000 and as central Europe was this summer? Will climate change alter the frequency and intensity of rainstorms?'
On these longer timescales, the possibility of skilful forecasts a full season ahead is another goal for the UK researchers. 'Seasonal predictions offer great opportunities for the UK economy as well as warning UK society', comments Professor Alan Thorpe, Director of NCAS. He adds, 'The UK programme is part of a worldwide focus on weather research and the conference will give us the opportunity to exchange ideas and progress developments with other leading scientists.'
The World Weather Research Programme coordinates collaborative projects throughout the world. Examples of these, leading to global benefits for mankind, include: successful demonstrations of improved urban weather prediction at the Sydney 2000 Olympics; prediction of floods in the Alps and Mediterranean region; and sand and dust storm prediction in Asia and the Middle East.
Recent scientific and technical developments should lead to improved weather and flood prediction now. Richard Carbone, Chairman of WWRP, comments that "Our capacity to observe the atmosphere and surface conditions will accelerate rapidly over the next decade. High performance computing, together with new mathematical techniques, will help us both to use the observations and to introduce improved, and thereby more realistic, representations of clouds, storms, and surface water systems into the prediction models."
A real advance made possible by ultra-fast computers is our ability to predict the chance of extreme rainfall leading to floods. An ensemble of weather forecasts, for each time and place on the globe, will allow forecasters to evaluate the risk of rainfall exceeding given amounts at any location. These unbiased probabilistic forecasts of rainfall are expected to lead to breakthroughs in flood prediction over the next decade.
Met. Office Press Officer
Tel: 01344 854629
Environment Agency Press Officer
Tel: 0207 863 8635
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
1. The International Conference on Quantitative Precipitation Forecasting, from 2-6 September 2002 at the University of Reading, is sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and organised by the Royal Meteorological Society, the learned society for meteorology in the UK. It is co-sponsored by the British Hydrological Society and by other leading organizations such as EUMETSAT (the European organisation for the exploitation of meteorological satellites), the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the Met Office.
2. NERC funds and carries out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. Priority topics include climate change, Earth's life-support systems and sustainable economies.
3. The NERC Centres for Atmospheric Science has recently been created by NERC to carry out atmospheric science research in the UK national interest. It is a set of distributed centres and facilities across many UK universities and related institutions.
4. The WWRP was started in 1998 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Its aim is to focus multi-national research on those aspects of weather prediction that have the greatest social and economic impacts.
5. Floods arise from several extreme weather phenomena including tropical cyclones and cyclones of oceanic origin at temperate latitudes as they come over land. Also mountainous countries are vulnerable to spring floods that result from the occurrence of heavy rainfall on melting snow. Life-threatening flash floods are common over all continents in the warm season and are especially dangerous in semi-arid regions. They occur after torrential thunderstorms, which are often organised into clusters and are thus difficult to forecast.
Press release: 06/02
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