Range-dependent thresholds for global flood early warning

J Hydrol X. 2019 Jul;4:100034. doi: 10.1016/j.hydroa.2019.100034.


Early warning systems (EWS) for river flooding are strategic tools for effective disaster risk management in many world regions. When driven by ensemble Numerical Weather Predictions (NWP), flood EWS can provide skillful streamflow forecasts beyond the monthly time scale in large river basins. Yet, effective flood detection is challenged by accurate estimation of warning thresholds that identify specific hazard levels along the entire river network and forecast horizon. This research describes a novel approach to estimate warning thresholds which retain statistical consistency with the operational forecasts at all lead times. The procedure is developed in the context of the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS). A 21-year forecast-consistent dataset is used to derive thresholds with global coverage and forecast range up to six weeks. These are compared with thresholds derived from ERA5, a state of the art atmospheric reanalysis used to run the baseline simulation for the years 1986-2017 and to give a best guess of the present hydrological states. Findings show that the use of constant thresholds for 30-day flood forecasting, as in the current operational GloFAS setup, is consistent throughout the entire forecast range in only 30% to 40% of the river network, depending on the flood return period. Findings show that range-dependent thresholds, of weekly duration, are a more suitable alternative to time-invariant thresholds, as they improve the model consistency as well as the skills in flood monitoring and early warning, particularly over longer forecasting range.

Keywords: Early warning system; Ensemble forecasting; Flood thresholds; GloFAS; Global hydrology; Hydrologic model.