Nowcasting for Central Europe

by Yong Wang1, Ingo Meirod-Mautner2, Alenka Sajn Slak3, Alexander Kann4

High-impact weather has always posed challenges for crisis management and risk prevention. Nowcasting provides very short range weather forecasts (0–6 hours) and warnings in a timely manner and in high spatial detail. It can help end users such as civil protection authorities, hydrologists and road safety services in their time-critical applications to respond, prepare and take actions for high-impact weather.

Nowcasting information and warnings need to be tailored to end users, so that information can be understood and used in decision-making to enable timely action and preparedness. Multidisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration between meteorological services and end users is essential for nowcasting to be effectively used in crisis management and risk prevention. As weather does not stop at borders, successful crisis management and risk prevention also require transnational collaboration on nowcasting information and coordination on warnings. The Integrated Nowcasting through Comprehensive Analysis for Central Europe (INCA-CE) project achieved all of these.

INCA-CE was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and participating members and implemented from April 2010 to September 2013 under the leadership of the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG), developers of the INCA system. It covered eight Central European countries – Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy,

Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia – had 16 partners, and included many disciplines. The project was organized into six work packages and steered by an international scientific advisory board. Its main goal was the improvement of risk management standards and methodologies in order to enable more detailed transnational assessments and warnings.

The development and implementation of such a now-casting system directly contributes to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai Framework) global goal to “substantially increase the availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to people by 2030.”Additionally,thegoalsandresultsof INCA-CE are closely ties to Sendai Framework Priority 4: “Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response...” At national and regional level, the INCA-CE project contributed in developing, maintaining and strengthening people-centred multi-hazard, multi-sector forecasting and early warning systems. The projected facilitated coordinated regional approaches and operational mechanisms to prepare for high impact weather situations by implementing a common nowcasting platform and through the exchange of guidelines and strategies in civil protection.

The INCA system

End-user requirements and demands originated INCA and have continued to help in improving the system. A very high resolution spatial and temporal system, INCA provides weather analyses and nowcasting for a one kilometre squared (1 km2) grid and has a rapid update cycle, running every five minutes to one hour depending on weather parameters and application requirements. It is now used in many application areas from public weather forecasts, civil protection, road management, renewable energy providers, and operational hydrology to building industries and research applications.

INCA analysis merges, in real time, the available observations of automatic weather stations, radars and satellites, forecasts of numerical weather prediction models, and very high-resolution geographical and topographic data. As a multivariable system, INCA provides real-time analyses and nowcasting for precipitation amounts and types as well as for temperature, humidity, wind, cloudiness, snow fall line, ground temperature, convective parameters, global radiation, and so on. These quantities are essential for meeting the challenges of warning for high-impact weather and for satisfying the increasing demand for better services by end users.

Countries and regions marked with a blue star are operationally run INCA

International cooperation for success in nowcasting development

Nowcasting is becoming increasingly important for warnings of high-impact weather and numerous other applications. It is essential that every national weather service runs its own nowcasting system and provides warning information tailored to the specific needs of its end users. In Central Europe, most weather services are small and often lack suffcient human resources, technical capacity and know-how to develop a state-of-the-art nowcasting system.

Experiences from other cooperation programmes, such as the Regional Cooperation for Limited Area modelling in Central Europe (RC LACE), have shown that a strong decentralized partnership between meteorological services is crucial for developing a nowcasting system. Additionally, international cooperation is also vital for many countries with regard to strengthening capacities and learning opportunities within the regions.

The success of INCA development and application at ZAMG attracted several Central European national and regional weather services to use INCA as a nowcasting tool for operation and application. These include the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute, the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, the Hungarian Meteorological Service, the Polish Institute of Meteorology and Water Management, the Environmental Agency of the Republic of Slovenia, and the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy.

Currently, INCA runs operationally at very high spatial resolution in space (1 km2) and time (15 min) at all partner weather services involved in the project. It has been tested and evaluated independently in different regions, and makes use of all available meteorological data. 

Interdisciplinary cooperation

A goal of INCA-CE is to improve disaster/risk management standards and methodologies in order to enable management institutions and public authorities to issue more detailed risk assessments and warnings. INCA-CE has achieved this by focused on nowcasting applications within the three areas of operational hydrology, civil protection and road safety.

The INCA-CE concept for interdisciplinary cooperation is based on end user requirements for effective integration of nowcasting in crisis management and risk prevention. It consists of four stages:

  • Communication and understanding: Close collaboration is required between the nowcasting information providers and end users. This is vital to understand the demands of end users, and to communicate the strengths and limitations of nowcasting information. INCA-CE bridged the gap between nowcasting providers and end users, who are now incorporating nowcasting information into decision-making process.

  • Optimization and translation: INCA is optimized and configured to the needs of end users in their application areas. Nowcasting information is translated into user-relevant information for crisis management and risk prevention.

  • Implementation and integration: The optimized INCA was implemented in operations in each partner country. The relevant nowcasting information was then integrated into practices in partner agencies and institutions for operational hydrology, civil protection and road safety.

  • Evaluation and training: After the forecasting and decision-making processes were evaluated, the strengths and weaknesses of the integrated nowcasting and application were communicated to nowcasting information providers and end users. This enabled further improvement of the integrated system of nowcasting and its application. Training was organized to improve capacity-building and knowledge transfer.

Transnational cooperation

Weather and its impact know no borders, thus cooperation across borders – transnational cooperation – can greatly assist in addressing high-impact weather forecasting and the coordination of warnings on larger scales than possible without cooperation. Risks can often be handled more effciently by the exchange of information with neighbouring countries. Jointly developed solutions are frequently more effcient and effective than the stand-alone efforts.

In Central Europe, transnational cooperation is indispensable. INCA-CE, therefore, established three transnational working groups representing regional stake-holders: Operational Hydrology, Civil Protection and Road Safety. Furthermore, the INCA-CE transnational web-based dissemination system conveys nowcasting information and warnings to authorities and the public. The portal provides participating authorities with links to every national web portal containing nowcasting information for civil protection, road safety and operational hydrology. It also supports end users by giving an accurate and reliable overview of the transnational weather situation, thus enabling activities within the three application areas to be planned accordingly.

The main added value of this transnational cooperation is a wider understanding of the “warning chain” extending from weather models to the dissemination of nowcasting information and warnings between countries. Recent events, such as the heavy storm that hit Hungary in April 2015 or the floods in Eastern Austria in May 2014, demonstrated the importance of common weather and warning platforms and coordinated approaches in disaster impact reduction.

Individual INCA-CE partner countries also actively cooperate in knowledge exchange and dissemination of advanced nowcasting technologies with sister institutions in developing countries, thereby also directly supporting the Sendai Framework.

Forecast Demonstration Project

The INCA-CE project addressed World Weather Research Programme (WWRP) objectives and contributed to its overall mission: to improve public safety, quality of life, economic prosperity and environmental quality by bringing researchers and scientists from operational centres and users together. In 2011, WWRP established INCA-CE as a Forecast Demonstration Project. The involvement of WWRP and WMO helped the INCA-CE concept to be implemented in other regions of the world, and facilitated the acquisition of know-how, expertise and experience between countries, especially in developing countries.

INCA-MCPEX (Meteorological Civil Protection Exercise) session in Hungary.

Beyond INCA-CE

Since the completion of the project’s implementation, on-going scientific breakthroughs – wind and gust nowcasting, probabilistic nowcasting, road weather forecasts, convective precipitation nowcasting – have been implemented gradually into the operational warning chains in close coordination with national authorities in order to guarantee an effective use of these new technologies.

Since 2014, the INCA-CE web portal has made operationally, rapidly updated nowcasting information available to the general public and professional end users. More international partners have also joined the INCA development. Recommendations and guidelines developed from INCA-CE have been implemented in the operational environment in Central European countries, and further refined in framework of several European Union and EUMETNET (a grouping of 31 European National Meteorological Services) projects led by ZAMG, for example, PROFORCE (seamless probabilistic forecasts for civil protection) and ASIST (Application oriented analysis and very short range forecast environment).

In the coming years, the evaluated INCA technique and high-impact weather warning concepts from INCA-CE will be transferred to developing countries through international cooperation and training. As this goes forward, efforts will be made to spread the INCA-CE cooperation ideal, in particular, its comprehensive interdisciplinary partnership with respect to countries and institutions/authorities, in similar initiatives in other regions of the world.

In the hotter, drier, wetter future that lies ahead, INCA-CE will help to increase preparedness for high-impact and extreme weather events which will recur in higher frequency with increasing intensity.


The authors thank all colleagues who contributed to the INCA-CE project. Special thanks to Thomas Haiden and Veronika Zwatz-Meise who made major contributions to preparing and initiating the INCA-CE project, and to the INCA-CE scientific advisory board: Fritz Neuwirth, Jianjie Wang, Jeanette Onvlee, Paul Joe, David Parsons, Peter Nutz and colleagues of WMO/WWRP. The implementation of the INCA-CE project was co-funded by the European Union through the Central Europe programme. 


1 Department of Forecasting Models, Zentral Anstalt für Meterologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG), Austria
2 Department of Forecasting models, ZAMG
3 Enviroment Department, CGS plus d.o.o., Innovative IT and EnviromentalTechnologies, Slovenia
4 Department of Forecasting models, ZAMG 

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