The Scottish Flood Forecasting Service (SFFS) is today (Tuesday 9 March) marking a decade of supporting Scotland’s preparedness and response to flooding.
Staffed around the clock 365 days a year, the service has been combining hydrological and meteorological data to provide strengthened flood forecasting for Scotland over the last 10 years, and is a close partnership between The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Met Office.
Its team of experts across Scotland has delivered more than 3800 national flood guidance statements. These five day forecasts are issued daily to a range of 230 organisations including emergency services and local authorities, helping emergency responders prepare in advance for the impacts of flooding.
Climate change is likely to bring increased risk of coastal, river and surface water flooding. With sea level rise and more extreme weather, including wetter winters, more intense rainfall and thundery weather in summer, the increasing importance of the service to help Scotland prepare and adapt is clear.
The service has played a critical role in forecasting impacts from some of the most significant weather events of the decade, including storms Desmond and Frank in 2015. These saw SEPA issue its first severe Flood Warning since the formation of the SFFS, and its highest number of Flood Warnings in one day (101 warnings) respectively.
Terry A’Hearn, SEPA CEO, said: “Over the last ten years, the SFFS has proved a vital service to help Scotland prepare in advance for the worst impacts of flooding. Preparation is crucial, as we saw in the last fortnight when towns from Aberdeenshire to the Scottish Borders flooded.
“The threat from flooding is real and growing. As well as posing a risk to properties, infrastructure and our environment, it can pose a serious threat to life. We and our partners at the Met Office, together with flood management authorities, community responders and communities themselves all have key roles to play as Scotland learns to live safely with flooding.”
Over the last 10 years, the Met Office has made continual improvements to the radar network and other weather technology. This enables the SFFS to issue more detailed daily flood guidance, with ever increasing lead-time and confidence.
Met Office Chief Executive Professor Penny Endersby said: “Climate change is not only resulting in a warming climate but also more intense rainfall which has a crucial bearing on the SFFS’s operations. The risk and impacts of flooding are likely to increase over the coming years, meaning we will need to continue to adapt our services.
“Forecasting skills are constantly evolving and developing thanks to world leading, cutting-edge science and technology and as we look to the future it is clear that we will need to continue to work together if we are to ensure that Scotland will continue to stay safe and thrive.”
The service was also recognised by the Royal Meteorological Society for its pioneering work to provide the UK’s first operational 24-hour surface water flood risk forecast during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Showing street-level surface water predictions for the first time, the project was the result of joint research with Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters, CREW, and has helped improve understand of flooding that doesn’t arise from rivers or the sea.
The launch of the SFFS in March 2011 was supported by the Scottish Government.
Kenny Wratten, Chair of the Local Authorities Resilience Group Scotland, said: “Getting that five day forecast of flooding every morning from SFFS helps councils plan and deliver flood mitigation and response. The earlier we get an indication of what’s expected and where, the better we and other responders can gear up to make best use of available resource in areas we know are most likely to be affected.
“For councils this might include extra maintenance in trouble spots, considering road closures, the deployment of flood protection measures, and making arrangements to assist people. More than anything it’s about working together using best knowledge to support our communities.”
Paul Laidlaw, Resilience Manager for the Scottish Flood Forum said: “Services from the SFFS are invaluable to the Scottish Flood Forum (SFF), as they help us to work with communities to build actions that help them prepare for flooding. The Flood Guidance Statement in particular helps us and other recognised community responders get enough of a heads-up to prepare where flood recovery resources may need to be deployed, to help those impacted.
“It also provides an excellent learning tool for us to help communities develop flood plans and response exercises, which alongside SEPA Flood Warning messages helps them better avoid, reduce or prevent damages that all too often can leave physical and psychological scars.”
In addition to the five-day flood forecast shared with emergency responders and those with flood-risk management duties, plans are also in progress for a public-facing three-day flood forecasting product, being developed in consultation with the public.
SEPA is Scotland’s national flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management authority. As well as working in partnership with the Met Office to forecast for flooding, it operates Floodline in Scotland to warn the public and emergency responders when flooding is likely.
It issues regional Flood Alerts – early advice that flooding is possible – across wide geographical areas covering the length and breadth of Scotland. It also issues local Flood Warnings in areas where it has developed river system monitoring and flood risk impact knowledge. These warnings are issued at shorter notice when it is more certain that a specific area will be affected.
Vincent Fitzsimons, SEPA’s head of flooding, added: “There are some simple steps you can take to help prepare for flooding, including signing up to Floodline, preparing a flood plan, familiarising yourself with how to shut off energy and water supplies, having key contact numbers to hand and considering the use of flood protection products. And when flooding does strike, remember these five important tips;
1. Do not walk, drive or swim through flood water.
2. Do avoid any form of direct contact with flood water as it could be contaminated.
3. Do not use any electrical appliances.
4. Do move to higher ground and wait for the emergency services to find you.
5. Do co-operate with emergency services and your local authority who are responsible for co-ordinating relief measures.”
Further advice can be found at floodlinescotland.org.uk.