Will Lang, Chief Hydrometeorologist of the Flood Forecasting Centre

Making a difference, together

13 November 2012

With this summer being the UK's wettest in 100 years, Chief Hydrometeorologist of the Met Office and the Environment Agency's Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC), Will Lang, had his work cut out. But the whole team — which combines expertise from both the Met Office and the Environment Agency — rose to the challenge. Here, Will describes how the partnership works and the strides they've made in streamlining processes.

But as Will explains, "We've now created a team of hydrometeorologists who are experts in taking weather forecasts and translating them into a picture of flood risk for the whole of England and Wales tailored towards the emergency response community. Together we provide the definitive source for flood risk forecasting - and we communicate the right messages in the right way" says Will.

Strides in flood forecasting

Since the FFC was set up in 2009, great advances have been made in the service it provides. Based at the Met Office in Exeter, scientists from both organisations collaborate to produce the Flood Guidance Statement (FGS). This gives Category 1 and 2 responders (emergency services, local authorities, government agencies, utility and transport companies - plus health bodies) a daily, five day overview of flood risk in England and Wales.

Since time is a critical factor, the FGS service is designed to be as efficient as possible. Every day, subscribers to the service receive colour-coded alerts. Green is the lowest risk, and red is the highest. When the alert shows amber or red (i.e. medium or high risk of flooding), it will trigger a teleconference with the various responders, which enables them to coordinate their efforts. "People tell us that they can't imagine how we did things before," says Will.

Flooding In fact, last June, when areas of Cumbria, Lancashire and West Yorkshire were about to have a month's worth of rain in 24 hours, the FFC was able to give advance warning of several days.

This meant teams from the Environment Agency and local authorities were able to get to the scene before the floods arrived, clearing drains, testing defences and preparing flood basins.

As a result, the work of the FFC was highly praised by the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mrs Caroline Spelman. In a statement she said:

"I am very grateful for the diligent work of the Met Office and the Environment Agency staff in the Flood Forecasting Centre. Their forecasts, foresaw the flood event unfolding and meant that much work was possible in advance to lessen its impact."

"We act as scientists, project managers - and advisers to coordinate and join together improvements. We're the glue."

But forecasting is just one part of what the team does. In addition to doing 12-hour shifts to provide forecasts, the team also works on increasing the flood forecasting capabilities across both organisations. As Will explains, "We act as scientists, project managers - and advisers to coordinate and join together improvements. We're the glue."

The close working relationship has been valuable on both sides. "Both here at the Met Office and at the Environment Agency, we've learned that our capabilities are stronger, and have more impact, when joined together," says Will.

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In brief