Using the flood risk matrix – two October events

Two widespread flood events affected Scotland in October. One affected a very large area of the West Highlands, and the other, related to Storm Callum, widely impacted England and Wales, but just clipped the south of Scotland. In both cases the flood risk matrix on the Flood Guidance Statement was put to good use to indicate the potential severity even when there was still uncertainty on where the impacts would be.

Mon 8th, Tues 9th October

There was widespread heavy rain over two days, predominantly in the West Highlands as far south as Ayrshire.

Extract from Flood Guidance Statement on Mon 8th Oct

The risk was highlighted at the end of the previous week, with FGS yellow (minor impacts likely) from Friday. Upgraded to significant impacts likely (amber) on Monday for area W of Glasgow due to rain fallen plus forecast. In the event this was downgraded the next day, but there was a widespread event with rainfall in excess of 200mm in some places. Mainly road flooding, landslides etc. The flow return period was probably <5yr in most places, though maybe locally more severe.

Flooding in Oban

This was well forecast with plenty of lead time, though there were few areas at risk and warning schemes in the area most impacted by rainfall and rivers. Amber was based on information available at the time, downgraded when forecasts came down.

Sat 13th October – “Storm Callum”

Widespread heavy rain was forecast to hit northern UK several days in advance. On Tuesday we highlighted significant impacts possible (yellow) for south of Scotland on Saturday. In the event the bulk of the rain was across the border in England and Wales. Some gauges in Scotland recorded around 60-70mm in 36 hours. There were high flows in the south of the country with minor impacts, and Hawick approaching flood warning level.

Extract from Flood Guidance Statement on Thurs 11th Oct

This was well forecast in a UK context and we were correct to highlight possibility of significant impacts, which did occur elsewhere in the UK.

In both events, the Met Office had clear sight for several days that heavy rain was coming, allowing us to give Day 5 notification of potential impacts. We were then able to adjust the likelihood, location and expected level of impacts by using different parts of the matrix as we got closer to the event.

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Medium Range Outlook for the Flood Guidance Statement

The 5 day FGS

Since its inception in 2011 the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service has provided forecasts of flood risk out to five days, by way of the Flood Guidance Statement sent to the emergency response community. Since then the scope and accuracy of medium range forecasting has increased markedly, with the result being that a reasonable view can be taken of at least the possibility of extreme weather occurring beyond the five day forecast window.

To this end, we are now able to provide an outlook for the 6 – 10 day period, on occasions where the forecasts suggest something significant, and when we feel it would provide some meaningful information to the customers. Some example of times when this might be appropriate are:

  • High spring tides, which are generally known about long in advance
  • Ex-hurricanes with long lead times, that might cause significant impacts, whether through extreme rainfall or large storm surge
  • Just prior to extended holiday periods, to aid resource allocation
  • Expected thaw following an extended cold spell and long build-up of snow
  • During a prolonged significant event to indicate when things are likely to ease up

Hurricane Ophelia – well forecast rain and surge

It’s not expected that this section of the Flood Guidance Statement will be used very often, but the ability to use it will allow us to provide useful information when available.

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Studentship opportunity – snow monitoring in Scotland

We’re supporting CEH in a summer placement for a university student who is doing a degree in a “quantitative discipline” (e.g. mathematics, statistics, computing, engineering, physics) to come and try working in environmental research.
The project is “Snow hydrology: analysing new snowpack observations to better understand hydrological model performance”. Details are in the flyer posted below – click to expand. Please pass on to anyone who may be interested.

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Review of 2017-18 EFAS Messages

As reported in the article on the 13th annual meeting of the European Flood Awareness System partners, SEPA and the forecasting service are part of this international forecasting initiative, and receive notifications when flooding is expected. As part of our input to the meeting we submitted a poster, jointly with the Flood Forecasting Centre. This entry provides a little more detail on the Scottish events covered in the poster.

It was a quiet year, with most of the activity being taken up with low level river and surface water events, or coastal event outwith the scope of EFAS. As can be seen below, only one EFAS notification was received during the year, for the north east of Scotland on 6 June 2017. What is interesting is that on the same day there was surface water flooding in parts of the Central Belt, including Edinburgh, which was not picked up by EFAS. This illustrates some strengths and weaknesses of the system, which is more geared toward large rivers – even our larger watercourses mostly fall more within the remit of the Flash Flood notification remit – than surface water flooding. Additionally the event in the south of Scotland during January 2018 was missed by EFAS, though it was forecast to some extent by SEPA’s own models – the run-off was caused at least in part by snow melt, which all models can struggle with. There were no EFAS false alarms for Scotland during this period.

Reported and missed events for 2017-18. Map graphics show EFAS Flash Flood forecast (top) and Grid-to-Grid forecast (bottom). Photos (L-R) Moray, Moray, Edinburgh on June 7


The lesson identified is that for the types of events that we see in Scotland, EFAS can be useful to help add confidence to our own forecasts, given that the source models (ECMWF weather and LISFLOOD for rivers) are independent of our own. But not everything is captured, particularly surface water events, so we should be wary of relying on it in isolation.

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World Meteorological Day 2018

Happy World Meteorological Day!

Friday 23 March is World Meteorological Day 2018 and this year the World Meteorological Organisation has named the theme – ‘Weather-Ready, Climate-Smart’. The recent cold temperatures and snow events have demonstrated the importance and value of being “weather ready” in the UK and as the UK’s National Meteorological Service, the Met Office’s forecasts and National Severe Weather Warning Service helped to ensure we were all well-prepared. The Met Office also ensures that the nation is ‘Climate-Smart’, delivering world-class climate research and science through the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services. We thought today would be a good day to showcase the partnership between the Met Office and SEPA to deliver the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service (SFFS).

The daily Flood Guidance Statement, produced by the Met Office and SEPA through SFFS

The SFFS has been going since 2011. From the start it has been a working partnership between Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Met Office. Operationally we work together to produce the daily Flood Guidance Statement, and provide forecast information to aid with the issuing of Flood Alerts and Warnings by SEPA. Additionally, the partnership is active in flood forecasting research, and facilitates the exchange of data between the organisations, as well as training, development and public awareness of flood risk.

The work of the service, as highlighted in all the earlier articles on this site, would be impossible without the high quality meteorological data and expert advice produced continuously every day by the Met Office.

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Flood Warning Dissemination System Administrator – vacancy in Scotland

Flooding is one of this century’s biggest environmental challenges, and tackling it here in Scotland is a top priority for SEPA.  As Scotland’s national flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management authority SEPA leads the way in flood risk management in Scotland.  SEPA has a statutory responsibility for flood warning and provides a national flood warning service using the Flood Warning Dissemination system and we are looking to recruit an Administrator to manage this system as part of the Flood Forecasting and Warning team.

The aim of this role is to ensure our flood warning dissemination system works when we need to communicate that flooding is forecast.  You will ensure the system is properly maintained, configured with the right information and has the functionality to ensure our critical messages get to the right people in time.

You’ll act as the interface between the users and suppliers, using our fault resolution and change management processes, as well as taking responsibility for the delivery of improvements and undertaking system testing.  You will develop guidance and deliver training so that the key SEPA staff members who use the system are trained and able to get their messages out when they need to.

You’ll need to be computer literate, experience of working in an IT environment or with marketing systems would be an advantage, but more importantly you will have a can-do attitude and be able to maintain a positive working relationship with the system supplier.

In exchange for these skills SEPA’s terms and conditions are exceptional. You will be expected to work 35 hours per week and we have a flexi-time scheme in place to support a healthy work-life balance. You will be given 28 days annual leave (pro rata) and seven additional public holidays. Further information on all our benefits can be found on our website.

If you think that is you, we’d love to receive your application!

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Hydrometeorologist vacancy in Scotland

Here in SEPA we’re hiring a Hydrometerorologist. Permanent, full time, based in Perth, although other office locations may be considered.

Flooding is one of this century’s biggest environmental challenges, and tackling it here in Scotland is a top priority for SEPA.  As Scotland’s national flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management authority SEPA leads the way in flood risk management in Scotland and we are looking to recruit a Senior Scientist specialising in Hydrometeorology within the Flood Forecasting and Warning team.

Flash flooding in Alyth, Perthshire, in July 2015.

We’re here to help people, and this job more than plays its part. The aim of this role is to assist in the critical service of translating hydrological and meteorological research and science developments into operational practice.  You will lead on science developments within the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service to enable future improvements to the service and its efficiency. Doing this requires a good science background and a real interest and understanding of how society must adapt and work within our changing environment.

We are looking for dedicated, innovative candidates who have the right mix of technical and interpersonal skills, who are strategic thinkers with a relevant academic background, and most importantly have a can-do attitude and passion for enabling positive change. In this role you will be aiming to bring together challenges in meteorological forecasting to benefit hydrological predictions in surface water flooding, rapid response catchments and longer range flood predictions, providing guidance in the use of probabilistic approaches, and working with internal and external partners, including the Met Office.

In exchange for these skills SEPA’s terms and conditions are exceptional. You will be expected to work 35 hours per week and we have a flexi-time scheme in place to support a healthy work-life balance. You will be given 28 days annual leave (pro rata) and seven additional public holidays. Further information on all our benefits can be found on our website.


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EFAS 13th Annual Meeting in Sweden

Last week I attended the annual meeting of the European Flood Awareness System partners. Each year the meeting is held in a different location. This year it took place in Norrköping, Sweden, home of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, part of the EFAS Dissemination Centre. The unexpectedly late winter conditions caused a few challenges to the transport for some of the attendees, and the need to wrap up warm, but overall the freezing temperatures and snow added more excitement to the proceedings.

The Louis de Geer Centre, Norrköping, site of the EFAS meeting, 13-14 March 2018

There were two days of presentations and workshops. These can be summarised as follows:

  • Updates and reminders of the service – what the centres do, who the members are, what we can do to help each other
  • System updates, in particular the extension of the model domain, to also include western Russia, Turkey and North Africa, to go live in April
  • The new web interface. We all had a chance to trial this. The general agreement was that this will greatly improve ease of access to the data. Within the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service this should help us to integrate EFAS more fully into our operations.
  • Case studies and new developments from partners, focussing on events in the Balkans last year
  • Poster presentations – as last year in the UK was fairly uneventful in terms of major flooding, SFFS submitted a joint poster with the Flood Forecasting Centre (England and Wales). One theme of the poster was that although EFAS often does pick up river flooding, it can fail to identify surface water flooding, even from fairly widespread rainfall events. The events in Scotland on June 6 2017 were used to illustrate this.
  • Workshops. Three smaller sessions were held at which more detailed discussions were held around the following:
    • New products within EFAS, in particular the Rapid Risk Assessment using flood maps; and also Seasonal Forecasting. Neither functionality is used very much as yet, partly due to unfamiliarity of the products within the user community.
    • Communications between the partners and the centres, over issues such as data, contacts, notifications, event feedback etc. A notable current absence is the ability to feedback on events missed by EFAS.
    • Downloading archive and near real time data for use in other systems. There is the potential for taking a feed of EFAS forecasts for use in forecasting systems such as FEWS Scotland in future (following development).

Left: Richard Maxey (SFFS) and Julia Perez (FFC) present their poster on EFAS forecasts for the UK in 2017. Right: Peter Salamon presents the new extended domain for the model.

The main highlight of the two days, however was the opportunity to meet and talk with old friends and new, to share experiences of EFAS and flood forecasting in general, and to reaffirm relations within the European flood forecasting community. This was perhaps the most valuable aspect of the meeting. Thanks must also be extended to our hosts at Norrköping, who made us all feel very welcome, and treated us to a city tour (based around the old industrial centre, driven by channeling of the waterways) and dinner with live music.

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Ready for winter – new flooding communications programme

The Scottish Flood Forecasting Service (SFFS) will have another outlet for its flood guidance activities this winter.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is launching a campaign to provide the public with advance notice of potential flooding. Through a newly created suite of winter marketing materials and a strategic approach to communicating, this campaign will be able to more accurately target communications activity to those at risk of flooding. It will also be able to provide up to 3 days’ notice of potential flooding, giving people more time to prepare and take action.

An example of one of the messages to be posted in response to a forecast of possible flooding.

In order for this campaign to be accurate and effective, SEPA’s Flooding Communications team will work with the SFFS, to monitor the likelihood and impacts of flooding. If significant or severe flooding is imminent, the campaign will be activated and messages will be broadcast to the areas at risk. Messages will be advertised on both national and local radio stations, on social media and online and will also be shared with key partners and flood action groups for further dissemination.

The communications activity will complement SEPA’s Floodline Service, which provides free messages to customers when SEPA issues a Flood Alert, Flood Warning or Severe Flood Warning in their area, and will encourage more people to sign up to the service.

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Summer river flooding in Scotland

It had been a fairly quiet few months for the operational side of the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service, before heavy rain struck much of the country at the start of June, causing some significant flooding in the north east, and minor flooding in many other locations. Forecasts consistently indicated low pressure and ‘wrap around’ feature bringing heavy rain to the north and north east in particular, though there was some variation from forecast to forecast as to the exact location and rainfall amount forecast, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Peak 24 hour rainfall totals forecast on Sun, Mon and Tues for Tues 6/ Weds 7 June

The Grid-to-Grid model also highlighted this uncertainty, though it was clear that all scenarios would lead to much higher than usual flows (particularly for the time of year) in some areas. See Figure 2.

Figure 2: Grid-to-Grid forecast on previous day and range of forecasts for River Narin

Figure 3: Area of Concern map for Tues 6 June Flood Guidance Statement

To reflect the uncertainty the Flood Guidance Statement indicated a low likelihood of significant flooding, with an Area of Concern map. See Figure 3.





In the event, over 100mm of rainfall in 24 hours fell in some areas, and some rivers exceeded flooding levels, particularly in the north east. A number of Flood Alerts and Flood Warnings were issued. Some properties were evacuated and the Inverness to Aberdeen railway line was flooded. Surface water flooding issues were also widespread.

Figure 4: Portsoy in Aberdeenshire (photo from The Scotsman)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this event is that even in summer, and following a prolonged dry spell, river flooding is always a possibility during a prolonged rainfall event. Whilst surface water flooding did occur, the main focus was on the rivers.

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