Social-media and newspaper reports reveal large-scale meteorological drivers of floods on Sumatra

Nat Commun. 2020 May 19;11(1):2503. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16171-2.


Floods are a major contributor to natural disasters in Sumatra. However, atmospheric conditions leading to floods are not well understood due, among other factors, to the lack of a complete record of floods. Here, the 5 year flood record for Sumatra derived from governmental reports, as well as from crowd-sourcing data, based on Twitter messages and local newspapers' reports, is created and used to analyze atmospheric phenomena responsible for floods. It is shown, that for the majority of analyzed floods, convectively coupled Kelvin waves, large scale precipitation systems propagating at ∼12 m/s along the equator, play the critical role. While seasonal and intraseasonal variability can also create conditions favorable for flooding, the enhanced precipitation related to Kelvin waves was found in over 90% of flood events. In 30% of these events precipitation anomalies were attributed to Kelvin waves only. These results indicate the potential for increased predictability of flood risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.