The major impacts from Storm Babet are yet another reminder of how devastating storms and floods can be in the UK. Hydrological modeller Dr Steven Cole explains how forecasting by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) is supporting action by government agencies and companies to reduce the risks from flooding  

Flooding is one of the highest natural hazard risks the UK is exposed to and is expected to get significantly worse due to climate change. 

UKCEH scientists work with UK flood warning agencies to provide a range of computer software and expertise to help better forecast and understand flood risk. Ultimately this supports improved flood guidance and warnings for the public, and allows better decision making by emergency responders, energy and water companies, and transport operators to reduce the risks to lives, property, infrastructure and public services. 

Forecasting the weather and floods is a complex process that relies on computer and mathematical models, as well as observations such as rain gauges and river conditions. UKCEH develops a range of hydrological models that predict river flows and are used in 24/7 forecasting systems in the UK and abroad.

Flood risk matrix The risks matrix shows the likelihood of potential impacts.

As predicting the weather is uncertain, multiple forecasts are produced by the Met Office to give a range, of possible outcomes. The UKCEH Grid-to-Grid (G2G) model, which divides the UK into 1km x 1km areas then  estimates river flows and the probability of flooding in each of these pixels.

This gives forecasters vital information on how likely flooding may be and location of the potential hotspots, supporting the Flood Guidance Statement for England and Wales and the Scottish Flood Forecast, including those issued for Storm Babet.  

Recent research has developed tools that  combine the likelihood of flooding and the potential impacts, for people, property and transport to produce flood risk forecasts. 

An example of this new Impact- based forecasting approach is the new PREDICTOR (Predicting flooding impacts from convective rainfall) tool developed by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)), the Met Office and UKCEH.

This prototype system was used this summer and provides new insights on the real-time flood risk for properties and transport. During Storm Babet, PREDICTOR has been trialled by SEPA with Transport Scotland and shows great potential for better understanding the risk of road flooding during extreme storms.  

There is more information on UKCEH’s research in this field on the floods section of our website.