Scientists at the University of Reading are working with the UK government and aid agencies to provide the latest flood forecasting information for Mozambique. The University’s FATHUM (Forecasts for Anticipatory Humanitarian Aid) project uses the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) – part of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service – to inform decisions on where and when to mobilise relief and aid efforts in East Africa. Professor Hannah Cloke writes about the ongoing work in Mozambique, and Siobhan Dolan and Louise Arnal explain the current situations in Canada and Italy, where similar forecasts could be the difference between life and death.

Flooding has occurred in Mozambique, Italy and Canada

Floods of the scale that are currently ravaging Mozambique are devastating for communities. The huge amount of rain that has been dumped by Cyclone Kenneth on already wet ground has nowhere to go other than to run straight down slopes, tearing apart buildings, roads, crops and anything else in its way.

Stories are emerging from aid agencies about the difficulty in reaching remote and vulnerable communities that have been cut off by rising waters and roads that are impassable.

This shows the vital importance of scientists working with aid agencies to give them the best possible forecasts for extreme weather and floods so that they can help communities prepare and even deliver life-saving aid, sometimes before a storm has even begun to form.

University of Reading scientists have been working with the UK government, forecasters, and aid agencies to provide the best data possible.

Floods will always happen, but as climate change makes extreme downpours more likely, and people move into areas vulnerable to floods, we will need better early warning systems more than ever.

Siobhan Dolan, a doctoral researcher in hydrology who works on flash flood risk at the University of Reading, said:

“The current flooding in the Southern Quebec region of Canada has put this area of the country in a state of emergency. The cities of Montreal and Quebec City are undergoing large evacuations and there has already been a fatality.

“Canada has been experiencing more extreme weather events and floods these past few years – this area also flooded in 2017. It is likely to continue to experience more and more extreme storms and floods in the coming years due to climate change. Last year the amount of water running through the river was almost half of what there is today, showing the fluctuating water levels.

“Flood forecasting systems have a large part to play in the future of all countries. Using these forecasts, we can begin to prepare for flood events before the event, and even distribute emergency aid before the dangerous event occurs, spending less on recovery and more on mitigation.

“Forecast based financing and increasing the skill of early warning systems and forecasts is a priority for all facing the climate emergency ahead.” 

Louise Arnal, a hydrology researcher at the University of Reading, who works on European flood forecasting, said:

“The floods currently affecting parts of Italy and around the Adriatic are a combination of flash floods from very intense rainfall and coastal flooding.

“While this part of the world is better prepared with infrastructure and relief services than less-developed countries, floods on this scale are still potentially lethal and incredibly costly. Communities can take years to recover to incidents which can occur in a matter of a few days or even hours.

“It’s important to give people, businesses and authorities the most detailed advance warnings possible, so they can take action and get out of harm’s way when floods hit. This is where our scientific research is helping people who are effectively on the front line of flooding hazards.

“It is difficult to attribute any individual event to climate change. But research has shown how a warmer atmosphere holds more water, meaning the potential for more intense downpours is increased. In addition, in many parts of the world changes to weather patterns could bring more damaging storms or greater overall rainfall, also increasing the chances of flooding.”