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Geoscience Communication An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-2019-18
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-2019-18
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 09 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 09 Sep 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Geoscience Communication (GC).

Are we talking just a bit of water out of bank? Or is it Armageddon? Front line perspectives on transitioning to probabilistic fluvial flood forecasts in England

Louise Arnal1,2, Liz Anspoks3, Susan Manson3, Jessica Neumann1, Tim Norton3, Elisabeth Stephens1, Louise Wolfenden3, and Hannah Louise Cloke1,4,5 Louise Arnal et al.
  • 1University of Reading, UK
  • 2European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, UK
  • 3Environment Agency, UK
  • 4Uppsala University, Sweden
  • 5Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science, Sweden

Abstract. The inclusion of uncertainty in flood forecasts is a recent, important yet challenging endeavour. In the chaotic and far from certain world we live in, probabilistic estimates of potential future floods are vital. By showing the uncertainty surrounding a prediction, probabilistic forecasts can give an earlier indication of potential future floods, increasing the amount of time we have to prepare. In practice, making a binary decision based on probabilistic information is challenging. The Environment Agency (EA), responsible for managing risks of flooding in England, is in the process of a transition to probabilistic fluvial flood forecasts. A series of interviews were carried out with EA decision-makers (i.e. duty officers) to understand how this transition might affect their decision-making activities. The interviews highlight the complex and evolving landscape (made of alternative hard scientific facts and soft values) in which EA duty officers operate, where forecasts play an integral role in decision-making. While EA duty officers already account for uncertainty and communicate their confidence in the system they use, they view the transition to probabilistic flood forecasts as both an opportunity and a challenge in practice. Based on the interview results, recommendations are made to the EA to ensure a successful transition to probabilistic forecasts for flood early warning in England.

We believe that this paper is of wide interest for a range of sectors at the intersection between geoscience and society. A glossary of technical terms is highlighted by asterisks in the text and included in Appendix A.

Louise Arnal et al.
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Status: open (until 20 Nov 2019)
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Short summary
The Environment Agency (EA), responsible for flood risk management in England, is transitioning to probabilistic river flood forecasts. By displaying hidden uncertainties, these forecasts can give earlier hints of future floods, and more time to prepare. But making a decision on probabilistic information is complex. Interviews with EA decision-makers show the challenges and opportunities of such a transition. We make recommendations for a successful transition for flood early warning in England.
The Environment Agency (EA), responsible for flood risk management in England, is transitioning...
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