Flash Flood Guidance System Community: Member-to-Member Innovation for Operation

10 May 2024

In late March, 42 operational forecasters from NMHSs from Southeast Europe, the Black Sea, and the Middle East regions gathered in Bucharest for a 3-day Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) User Training workshop hosted by the National Meteorological Administration of Romania and technically supported by the Turkish State Meteorological Service (TSMS).  

Floods are the deadliest natural hazards, striking numerous regions in the world each year. The projected increase in the intensity of extreme precipitation translates to an increase in the frequency and magnitude of pluvial floods – surface water and flash floods (IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023). This, combined with land use changes and increased population, negatively impacts flood-prone areas. 

WMO, with financial support from the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) and the active involvement of 73 National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) is leading the Flash Forecasting Guidance System (FFGS) with Global Coverage project.  

The project entered its “Sustainability Phase”, which includes upscaling FFGS coverage to 31 more countries in support of Early Warnings for All. In addition, in the Sustainability Phase, the responsibility for management and enhancement of the system and capacities will be handed over to global, regional, and national centers. As part of this journey, Members are developing tools for enhancing the effectiveness of flash flood forecasts and warning messages. 

The FFGS User Training Workshop 

During the workshop, TSMS introduced a suite of innovative tools designed to advance flash flood response and preparedness. The first one, a life-saving automated email warning system, alerts forecasters of potential flash floods, ensuring they receive alerts from FFGS anywhere in the world. The second tool offers a detailed visualization of flash flood threats on Google Maps. Lastly, a specialized application developed for Türkiye monitors Snow Water Potential, crucial for managing water resources and anticipating flood risks due to rapid snowmelt. This application supports sectors like energy, agriculture, and water management with enhanced preparedness and informed decision-making capabilities. 

The primary objective of the Workshop was to train forecasters on the use of the post-processing tools developed by the TSMS to: 

  • monitor FFGS products more precisely, 
  • issue flash flood early warnings more effectively, 
  • provide forecasters with timely and effective data and products. 

Furthermore, the workshop included practical training and hands-on sessions on the effective usage and operation of the new tools. 

Enhancing collaboration and knowledge exchange 

One of the main focuses of the workshop was member-to-member (m2m) learning and technology transfer. Participants hailed from countries with diverse meteorological backgrounds, each facing unique challenges in flash flood forecasting.  

Tatjana Vujnovic from the Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service underscored the importance of sharing effective practices and tools among colleagues. 

Member-to-member learning and the transfer of technology are crucial. If a member has developed an effective practice or a new tool - or "subtool" - it can be of great significance. Additionally, with varying levels of experience within our team, newer colleagues can gain deeper insights from more experienced colleagues, offering a broader perspective. We are eagerly anticipating the operationalization of these tools, such as warning emails with maps. We also look forward to the possibility of entering addresses to send warnings ourselves, adapting to changes within the forecasting teams. This flexibility and speed are key to improving our response to weather-related emergencies.

This sentiment was echoed by Abed El Rahman Zawawy from the Lebanese Meteorological Department, who highlighted the value of collaboration in improving flash flood warning systems across borders.  

Meeting peers who speak the same scientific language, share the same meteorological challenges, and have similar concerns undoubtedly expands my professional network and enhances my skills. Cooperation between meteorological services, especially among neighboring countries, is a logical step toward improving flash flood warning systems. This approach is vital because clouds do not recognize borders, and rivers are not confined to a single country. This particular workshop will improve my work methodologies and interactions with colleagues, positively impacting our collective forecasting abilities.

Bridging technological and knowledge gaps 

Amalya Misakyan of the Hydrometeorology and Monitoring Center SNCO in Armenia shed light on the challenges faced by her country and praised the tools developed by TSMS for their ability to simplify tasks and save time.  

In our country, the primary challenges we face in issuing timely flash flood warnings include the lack of nowcasting/radars and NWP (Numerical Weather Prediction) models. Our meteorological forecasts rely mainly on global or regional models, which often do not perform well in mountainous regions. For flash flood forecasting, in addition to our own products, we primarily utilize FFGS (Flash Flood Guidance System) products. The developed tools simplify the work of hydrological forecasters, facilitate their tasks, and help save time.

Ertan Turgu from the TSMS emphasized the importance of internal training to ensure the successful transfer of knowledge acquired during workshops.  

The new enhancements introduced by members, such as those demonstrated by TSMS, significantly contribute to the overall operations of forecasters and hydrologists. Knowledge and technology used here make the forecaster's task more manageable, encouraging greater effectiveness in their work. Organizing internal training within the country could enable the transfer of knowledge and skills acquired in these workshops to other staff members and contribute to providing better and more accurate Early Warning forecasts.

Marius Matreata from the National Institute of Hydrology and Water Management in Romania outlined key enhancements needed to advance flash flood forecasting capabilities. Matreata's vision included the development of a unified "FFG Client application" to integrate functionalities from the tools developed by TSMS and others, paving the way for more efficient and accurate early warnings on a national level. 

There's also a critical need to enhance monitoring capabilities with new sensor technologies, provide continuous training for forecasters, ensure team stability by reducing personnel changes, and continue to improve model capabilities. Implementing these enhancements could significantly reduce the time needed to evaluate the severity of a situation and elaborate warning messages. It highlights the likely need to develop a local "FFG Client application" for national level forecasters, integrating selected functionalities from tools developed by TSMS and others from different regions.

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a map of a city with color-coded flash flooding risk levels and weather alerts.

The FFGS User Training workshop marked a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to enhance flash flood forecasting and early warning systems. Through member-to-member learning and collaboration, operational forecasters from diverse regions came together to exchange knowledge, share effective practices, and explore innovative tools developed by the TSMS. The workshop not only addressed the challenges faced by participating countries but also paved the way for future advancements in flash flood forecasting capabilities. 

As countries move forward in the Sustainability Phase of the FFGS project, continued collaboration, internal training, and technological advancements will be essential in ensuring the effective management of flood risks and the protection of vulnerable communities worldwide. 

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