No one is surprised by a flood

A joint Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) workshop and Steering Committee Meeting for Central America (CAFFGS), Haiti and the Dominican Republic (HDRFFGS), and Northwest South America (NWSAFFGS) has yielded suggested improvements to the System, which will benefit the well over 70 FFGS-user countries worldwide. The event, hosted by the Panama Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (IMHPA) in Panama City from 24 to 28 April, attracted permanent representatives to the WMO, hydrological advisers, FFGS focal points and disaster risk representatives from 12 countries involved in the WMO Flash Flood Guidance System with Global Coverage (FFGS/WGC) project. As well as discussing possible improvement to the FFGS, the participants learnt from the knowledge and operational experiences of fellow FFGS users. 

Flash floods account for 85% of flooding worldwide and take some 5 000 lives annually. To mitigate these impacts and help populations to adapt, the FFGS/WGC project has implemented flood management and early warning services for the last decade with funding from the United States Agency for International Development/Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (USAID/BHA). The FFGS/WGC project partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Hydrological Research Center (HRC). CAFFGS was the first of the now 13 FFGS Regional Centres worldwide to enter operation, 20 years ago, after the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. HDRFFGS has been operational for some 10 years, while NWSAFFGS is in its testing phase and expected to go into operation in the coming months.  

Salvador_Landslides_MapSalvador landslides map

The Steering Committee started with presentations that highlighted the relevance of FFGS information on the evolution of a basin before the development of meteorological phenomena that could generate flash floods and the effectiveness of its early warning services in mitigating flash flood disaster risks. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods and tropical storms in the region. Actions, such as the FFGS – to mitigate, adapt and help manage risks – need to be accelerated.  

It was evident from country presentations that the FFGS tool has greatly improved the generation of flash flood warnings and alerts. The countries further demonstrated the levels of FFGS development they had achieved: from the automated issuing of bulletins to new applications based on FFGS products – like the soil moisture content application that has proven useful for disaster management as well as for the transportation and agriculture sectors. Most notable were tools for monitoring and forecasting of landslides that were showcased by CAFFGS. HRC, the developer of the FFGS, will further develop the tool to incorporate it into the FFGS for all users (see Figure 1 below), while HDRFFGS also plan to adopt it. 

The demonstrated capacities of the FFGS – and the trust users have in the product – have stimulated the momentum to further expand its functionalities. Many participants requested the addition of GIS (Geographic Information System) layers with territorial information to use as a reference to identify vulnerable communities or infrastructure. Another request concerned the inclusion of a river flood forecasting module, so that FFGS coverage could be extended to other areas, for example, alluvial valleys, larger basins, seasonal flooding, etc. The flood module, together with the Ensemble Streamflow Prediction module, could also be further developed for water resource management in other sectors, such as hydroelectric power generation and  agriculture.

The FFGS, as well as the related products developed by Meteorological and Hydrological Services, has facilitated the provision of impact-based forecasts (IBF) in the region, a significant step forward in advancing with the United Nations Early Warnings for All (EW4ALL) initiative. A road map is currently being developed in consultation with the FFGS Regional Centres, the WMO Standing Committee on Hydrological Services and other experts, to ensure the long-term sustainability of the FFGS. The new specification articulated during the Steering Committee Meeting will be incorporated in a final report for step-by-step implementation. 

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