Flooding from Intense Rainfall

Flooding from Intense Rainfall

Several members of the DARE team were involved in the  NERC Flooding from Intense Rainfall (FFIR) programme open event, held at the Royal Society in London on 27 November 2018.

Dr Linda Speight, FFIR Policy and Impact officer wrote this overview of the event.

Over 3 million households are at risk of surface water flooding in the UK and this number is set to rise in the future. Surface water flood events happen quickly and affect small areas, the surrounding region may not see any rainfall at all. This makes them difficult to forecast.

Through the NERC funded Flooding from Intense Rainfall programme (FFIR), meteorologists, hydrologists, scientists, consultants and operational experts are working together to reduce the risks of damage and loss of life caused by surface water and flash floods.

The research includes everything from historic newspaper archives to drones and high speed computers. It has identified places vulnerable to flash flooding, developed new techniques for monitoring rivers during flood events, improved weather forecasts for intense rainfall and demonstrated the potential for real time simulation of floods in urban areas. Importantly the five year programme has helped improve communication between people in the hydrology and meteorological research communities. This will have lasting benefits into the future.

At the programme showcase event at the Royal Society in November 2018 there was a hands on opportunity to interact with the challenges of flooding from intense rainfall. Alongside presentations and an expert panel debate, participants could immerse themselves in a virtual reality simulation of a flash flood, watch convective rainfall develop on a giant forecast globe and share their thoughts on the modelling and communication chains that underpin flood forecasting.

A short video about the programme is available here


Or you can find out more details at http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/flooding/

Dr Sam Illingworth from Manchester Metropolitan University responded to the event with poetry:


After the Flood


When I thought of floods

I thought of the heavens breaking forth

In biblical proportions.

Forty days and forty nights of rain.

I thought of Boxing Day 2015;

The pain in my left hand as I scooped

Dirty water out of my in-law’s outhouse

Using nothing

More than a gravy boat and lashings

Of dampened Christmas spirit.


When I thought of floods

I thought about days of sustained rainfall.

It never even crossed my mind that Surface water flooding

Or thunderstorms could decimate the land

In hours;

Not days.


When I thought of floods

I thought about rain gauges and sandbags;

I didn’t think about how convective events form,

How soil moisture could be used to forecast flow,

Or how our future of flood defence

Could ever be bound to our arid past.

To my great shame I did not even consider:

The conditioning of least-squares problems in variational data assimilation.


When I thought of floods

I thought of observations;

Of closing the floodgates after the horse had bolted.

Observations that masked an inevitable inability

To adapt to our environments.

I thought of shattered communities,

Broken apart not just by the unrelenting force of the rising waters

But by the isolation and helplessness of being

Told to sit and wait in silence

For the cavalry to arrive.


But now….

Now when I think of floods

I think of our improved knowledge of catchment susceptibility,

And how this will help decision makers

Identify locations at risk of flooding.

I think of being able to forecast a flood event in real time,

And how this will enable better decision making and communication.


But most of all I think about people.

Of end-to-end-forecasting, knowledge sharing, and upstream engagement.

I think about how flood chronologies can

Provide a powerful data set

To develop storylines around flood histories;

Histories which can be used to engage local communities.

And how these communities can not only learn

To be resilient,

But can help to build the resilience

That we need;

To stop us all

From being washed away.



From Germany to Brazil: on climate risk communication

by Javier García-Pintado

Last week, on 22-23 October 2018, around 230 scientists from the three ocean and climate related clusters of excellence in northern Germany met in Berlin in the joint conference on Ocean – Climate – Sustainability Research Frontiers. The participants brought in lively discussions within the context of scientific and societal action towards ocean and climate research. Apart from the discussions more oriented toward the basic climate science and technical aspects, from a personal standpoint (perhaps because of its distance from my own work), I found a number of presentations from “The Future Ocean” cluster in Kiel, which include scholars from politics, social science, philosophy and international law most interesting. Some of these presentations offered a window on the connection between climate change and global and local politics in countries (e.g.; as tropical islands in the Indian ocean, who generally rely on external aid) most affected by increasing sea levels and coastal erosion. In common, this class of talks indicated a need for improving the communication of climate and natural risk science to society. Actually, a huge component of the unpredictability in future climate projections comes from the societal component.

However, as analyzed in one talk in the conference, it seems that, ultimately, public opinion is mostly driven by what is shown on TV, and TV, public offer is in turn mostly driven by the economic powers. Thus, as described the writer Jose Luis Sampedro more than 6 years ago, “public opinion” (defined in Wikipedia as consisting of the “desires, wants, and thinking of the majority of the people”), is in reality the “opinion of the media” or the “opinion of the economic powers”. This clearly connects to the results of Brazil elections just yesterday and the new presidency, and so to the derived very uncertain future of the Amazon management. Apart from the risks to biodiversity, a further deforestation of the Amazon rainforest would make it impossible to cut carbon pollution and the aspirational target of no more than 1.5ºC global warming above pre-industrial temperatures set in the Paris climate agreement. Brazilian people (and they are not alone) seem either oblivious to the problem or convinced that they are not affected by it (even, as from a friend’s personal communication last week, it appears that some people in Brazil sadly believe climate change is an European hoax to take control over their rainforest). Generally rising sea levels and increased storm surge risks, as well as the extra energy accumulated in the Earth system in general (and ocean in particular, boosting atmospheric convection and associated flood risks), will surely lead to a further demand of online, continuously updated, risk information to face emergency situations in the future city. One can wish the best for Brazil and the Amazon, which is the best for the world. In any case, let’s hope that Copacabana is not swallowed in the sea before Rio is transformed into a resilient city.

Overview of the final Maths Foresees general assembly or why we need the restaurant

Overview of the final Maths Foresees general assembly or why we need the restaurant

This year started by attending the final Maths Foresees general assembly which showcased the diverse research and outreach activities funded by the network since its launch. The assembly took place in Leeds between 8-10th of January 2018 and also included updates from the Environmental Modelling in Industry study group held in 2017. Nearly a year ago now, I also took part in this study group and joined the challenge posed by SWECO (presented by James Franklin) on hydraulic modelling of collection networks for civil engineering.

Part of the Sweco team working on the sewer problem at Maths Foresees 2017 study group event

It was Gavin Ester (UCL), our group leader seen writing in the figure above, who gave the update in the assembly on the findings of our group in his presentation “Hydraulic modelling of collection networks for civil engineering”. You can also read my original blog article about the challenge “Sewer network challenge at MathsForesees study group 2017”.

The three days of the final assembly were full of interesting talks (of which many you can find on the event page) with a number of breakout groups each day discussing issues on: flood control, urban meteorology, and future funding strategies. I and Dr Sarah Dance from DARE team attended the general assembly and gave a joint presentation about use of the data assimilation in urban environments from understanding observation errors to improving flood forecasts, including a call for pilot projects. You can can find our presentations here and here.

Over the course of these three days we saw many interesting presentations on flood forecasting, decision making using uncertain forecasts, theory development of dune formation, multi-scale modelling for urban weather, modelling thg wave dynamics and much more. Sara Lombardo (Loughborough University) presentated overview and her findings on ‘Outreach project: Giant waves in the ocean: from sea monsters to science’, which generated a heated discussion from most of the participants. Sara throught her outreach work uncovered the importance of engaging school children in scientific subjects right from the early years while they are in a primary school to keep children’s interest in science alive throughout their school years; thus not alienating majority of children by the begining of the secondary school thinking that they are not good enough to do mathematics or other STEM subjects.


The postcard from the joined outreach project by NUSTEM, MathsForesees, and EPSRC given to children who participated in the outreach projects at selected schools to invite their parents to see their child’s work and activities in the outreach project.

The discussion that followed Sara’s presentation highlighted the importance of development and use of outreach tools at schools and local communities to bridge the link between academics and the public, allowing general public to experience the science. One such outreach tool is the flood demonstrator Wetropolis developed by Prof. Onno Bokhove (University of Leeds), of which the new version was also showcased at the final general assembly, see a Tweet below by Dr A. Chen.

The Maths Foresees network was established in May 2015 under the EPSRC Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) umbrella to forge strong links between researchers in the applied mathematics and environmental science communities and end-users of environmental research. In the final assembly it was evident such links are very valuable for both academics and industries alike. Much more needs to be done to allow such collaboration to flourish, as Andy Moores from Environmental Agency in his presentation “A view from an EA Research Perspective” said – there needs to be a restaurant, a nourishing environment, for a relationship to blossom and be sustained.

Through the energetic discussion what followed Andy Moores talk, it was obvious that everyone present have benefited taking part in the Maths Foresees network. The network has provided a very fruitful ground where academia and industry can meet to discuss their problems, exchange ideas, allowing both sides to take advantage of eachothers experience, knowledge, and tools to solve real world problems. It was felt very strongly that networks such as Maths Foresees providing this nourishing middle ground are necessary to sustain and further collaborations between academia, industry, and local community.


The featured image

MathsForesees Artists and academics worked with young children to produce artwork relating to non-linear waves. Image taken from @MathsForesees Twitter page.


Our first DARE workshop

Our first DARE workshop

by Sarah Dance

Workshop participants

The DARE team organised a workshop on data science for high impact weather and flood prediction, held by the river at the lovely University of Reading Greenlands Campus in Henley-on-Thames, 20-22 Nov 2017. The workshop objectives were to enable discussion and exchange of expertise at the boundary between digital technology, data science and environmental hazard modelling, including

  • Data assimilation and data science for flood forecasting and risk planning
  • Data assimilation and data science for high impact weather forecasting
  • Smart decision making using environmental data

The meeting was attended by over 30 participants from  5 different countries. We had some great presentations ( to be made available on this webpage) and discussion. We came up with some recommendations to help promote and deliver research and business applications in the digital technology-environmental hazard area. We plan to write a meeting report detailing these recommendations that we hope will be published in a peer-reviewed international journal.  Watch this space!


UFMRM WG Webinar: “DARE to use CCTV images to improve urban flood forecasts”

It is difficult to accurately predict urban floods; there are many sources of error in urban flood forecast due to unknown model physics, computational limits, input data accuracy etc. However, many sources of model and input errors can be reduced through the use of data assimilation methods – mathematical techniques that combine model predictions with observations to produce more accurate forecast.

In this talk I will motivate and introduce the idea of using CCTV images as a new and valuable additional source of information in cities for improving the urban flood predictions through data assimilation methods. This work is part of the Data Assimilation for REsilient City (DARE) project.

You can see the whole presentation on YouTube here or view slides here.

First recording of surface flooding in London using CCTV cameras

On Friday 2nd of June 2017 Met Office issued a yellow warning of heavy rain with possible hail and lightning over London. Also Environmental Agency issued a number of flood alerts for London for the same period of time. This allowed us to test our newly setup system for recording open data CCTV images from London Transport Cameras (aka JamCams).

Following the flood alerts we setup to record all Transport for London (TFL) cameras which where within the main flood alert areas, these were 4 areas in London.

Figure 1. Areas selected for recording TFL CCTV camera images on 2nd of June 2017 corresponding to flood alerts from Environmental Agency.

This resulted in downloading images from just over 110 CCTV cameras accross from  the marked areas in Figure 1. Dowload started on many cameras at 2:30pm on 2nd of June 2017 and continued for 24h with an image downloaded every 5min.

Many of these images showed heavy rain as it passed over London on the afternoon of the 2nd June 2017; some cameras even captured images of lightning which was seen over North London but we didn’t capture any images of flooding in the four coloured areas in Figure 1.

Figure 2. Image of heavy rain on A23 Brixton Rd/Vassell Rd as seen by one of the CCTV cameras in London on 2nd July 2017 at 5:19pm
Figure 3. Image of lightning on captured on London CCTV camera at A12 East Cross Route on 2nd of June 2017 at 4:17pm

However, following the flooding allert on London for Transport site allowed us to capture surface flooding that happened on the North Circular road between 4-7pm resulting in traffic jams in the area.

Figure 4. Map of the surface flooding on the North Circular on 2nd of June 2017

The surface flooding was very localised and only one camera captured it, the one just below the blue circle in the Figure 4. We recorded both still and video images from this camera.

We are currently setting up similar systems to download live traffic CCTV images from Leeds, Bristol, Exeter, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Tewkesbury.

DARE Board Meeting

On 22 February 2017 we held  our first advisory board meeting with stakeholders.

The presentations from the meeting may be downloaded here: