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Keywords:

  • risk communication;
  • flood risk management;
  • uncertainty;
  • civil protection;
  • EFAS;
  • Europe

Abstract

Following trends in operational weather forecasting, where ensemble prediction systems (EPS) are now increasingly the norm, flood forecasters are beginning to experiment with using similar ensemble methods. Most of the effort to date has focused on the substantial technical challenges of developing coupled rainfall-runoff systems to represent the full cascade of uncertainties involved in predicting future flooding. As a consequence much less attention has been given to the communication and eventual use of EPS flood forecasts. Drawing on interviews and other research with operational flood forecasters from across Europe, this paper highlights a number of challenges to communicating and using ensemble flood forecasts operationally. It is shown that operational flood forecasters understand the skill, operational limitations, and informational value of EPS products in a variety of different and sometimes contradictory ways. Despite the efforts of forecasting agencies to design effective ways to communicate EPS forecasts to non-experts, operational flood forecasters were often skeptical about the ability of forecast recipients to understand or use them appropriately. It is argued that better training and closer contacts between operational flood forecasters and EPS system designers can help ensure the uncertainty represented by EPS forecasts is represented in ways that are most appropriate and meaningful for their intended consumers, but some fundamental political and institutional challenges to using ensembles, such as differing attitudes to false alarms and to responsibility for management of blame in the event of poor or mistaken forecasts are also highlighted. Copyright © 2010 Royal Meteorological Society