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Southeastern Asia-Oceania Flash Flood Guidance System

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Indonesia hosted an initial planning meeting for the Southeastern Asia-Oceania Flash Flood Guidance System to try to boost resilience against one of the deadliest natural hazards.

Nineteen experts from WMO, the Hydrologic Research Center (USA) and Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Singapore attended the meeting which looked at the need for a comprehensive approach embracing an early warning system, dissemination procedures, warning protocols for populations at risk, and coordination between the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services and disaster management agencies.

Flash floods are one of the most serious natural hazards, with more than 5,000 lives lost annually and resulting in significant social, economic and environmental impacts. Flash floods have a different character than river floods, notably short time scales and occurring in small spatial scales, which make forecasting quite a different challenge than traditional floods. Forecasting of flash floods focus in particular on heavy rainfall and rainfall on saturated soils.

Flash floods occur throughout the world, and the time thresholds vary across regions from minutes to several. However, for the majority of these areas there exists no formal process for flash flood warnings, there is a lack of general capacity to develop effective warnings for these quick response events. Countries in the South-eastern Asia-Oceania region are among the most vulnerable.

“The Flash Flood Guidance System takes advantage of the latest developments in monitoring capabilities, such as satellite derived precipitation, radar technology, in-situ ground-station data, with the most recent advances in numerical weather prediction modeling,” said Paul Pilon, WMO Chief of Hydrological Forecasting and Water Resources Division. “It uses all of the different data sources and advances modelling capabilities to predict what will happen on landscape with respect to soil moisture and other important features that generate flash floods,” he said.

WMO Congress in 2007 approved implementation of the Flash Flood Guidance System project with global coverage, with partners including the U.S. National Weather Service, the Hydrologic Research Center and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. The main objective of the project is develop and implement flash flood guidance systems to strengthen regional capacity to develop timely and accurate flash flood warnings and reduce vulnerability.

“There are three items we expect that we can achieve in this initial planning meeting. First is to promote and share recent advances in our knowledge of the theory and practices of weather-based hydrological forecasting. Secondly, to reach agreement to pursue hydrological forecasting techniques and related capabilities so as to advance the practice of hydrological forecasting. The third one is to formulate a common plan to strengthen national capabilities to issue (flash) flood early warnings that may be implemented regionally,” said Dr. Andi Eka Sakya, the Director General of the Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics of the Republic of Indonesia which hosted the meeting from 2-4 February.

This was also echoed by the Hydrologic Research Center’s Konstantine Georgakakos,

“The most important things that we can accomplish from this meeting are to help forecasters in the region to improve their flash floods prediction. So everything that we do here is aimed at empowering these forecasters to be able to makes improvement in prediction to save life and reduce economic losses. This initial meeting is more an introduction to some of technology and some of philosophies of the program and also to bring the countries together for enhanced regional cooperation”

The Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project was also introduced to the participants for consideration for Southeast Asia and Oceania. It was cited as being of particular importance to advancing flash flood forecasting capabilities, as it provides national forecasters with high resolution numerical weather prediction products. It was highlighted that the SWFDP is an excellent mechanism to enhance Multi-hazard Early Warning System and that work is already underway to build synergies to enhance the predictive capability of the Flash Flood Guidance System by providing more accurate forecasts with a longer lead time, both of critical importance for decision-making.