A new interactive web portal developed by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) provides an indication of hydrological conditions across the country in the coming months.

It allows users to visualise projections for river flows from the UK Hydrological Outlook, a monthly report by UKCEH that supports a wide range of sectors, such as water and energy companies, farmers and local authorities, in their efforts to plan for water scarcity or potential flood risk in the months ahead.

While the current Outlook reports are static documents, with a range of pre-selected maps and graphs that focus on the regional to national scale, users of the new portal can click on an interactive map to look at projections for a specific geographical area or river catchment of interest.

Users can also customise the downloadable maps and graphs, for example, by looking at the likelihood of river flows reaching a trigger level relevant for drought planning in a region.

Projections are typically based on a comparison with what are considered ‘normal’ river flows for a location in that month historically, with categories ranging from exceptionally low to exceptionally high.

Forecasts are based on a range of techniques, including computer simulation models driven by Met Office’s rainfall predictions and historical data from the particular site. As with weather forecasts, there are a range of possible outcomes reflecting the uncertainty predicting conditions a month or season ahead.

UKCEH Director of Science, Professor Alan Jenkins, says: "Hydrological forecasting is challenging but recent scientific advances mean we are able to better predict the future status of water resources in the UK. The new portal enhances the way in which we provide these increasingly reliable projections to a wide range of sectors, including water companies, farmers and government agencies."

"The new portal enhances the way in which we provide these increasingly reliable projections to a wide range of sectors, including water companies, farmers and government agencies." Professor Alan Jenkins, UKCEH

As well as the Outlook forecasts, the portal shows current hydrological conditions, including ‘relative wetness’ maps that indicate how the amount of water stored in soils and rocks compares with normal conditions. Rainfall in areas that are already relatively very wet could result in flooding in the coming days and weeks, while areas that are relatively very dry could be susceptible to drought if there continues to be little or no rain.

Anne Dacey, Deputy Director of Water Resources at the Environment Agency, says: "The last few years we have seen changing weather patterns, including increasing frequency of prolonged dry weather, which may continue to become more extreme. This requires some forward planning. The UK Hydrological Outlook is an important part of the evidence we use to plan our operational incident response to prolonged dry weather risks.”


March 2022 relative wetness and dryness map of the UK

Relative wetness map: this indicates areas which are particularly wet or dry

Screengrab showing ensemble streamflow prediction forecast for the Don at Parkhill

Ensemble Streamflow Prediction is one of the river flow forecasting approaches used in the Hydrological Outlook.

Water companies use the data to predict the availability of water to supply the public and plan maintenance of our infrastructure.

Dr Geoff Darch, Water Resources Strategy Manager at Anglian Water, says: "The Hydrological Outlook produced by UKCEH has, for a long time, been the bedrock of forecast information available to water companies and other sectors.

"The new portal brings together information on current water availability and forecasts for the season ahead, enabling users to access and download data tailored to specific locations and timespans. It will be a key part of our forecasting capability."

The UKCEH team that has developed the portal hope it will also include the groundwater forecasts from the UK Hydrological Outlook in the near future, in collaboration with the British Geological Survey.

The portal is available at https://eip.ceh.ac.uk/hydrology/outlooks

Further information

The UK Hydrological Outlook is produced in a collaboration between UKCEH, the British Geological Survey,  the Environment Agency, the Met Office, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and the Department for Infrastructure - Rivers, Northern Ireland. Work on the portal was supported by the UK-SCAPE programme, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

A video describing how to use the Hydrological Outlooks portal.