Flood Indicators - Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta

Introduction

Since the destructive June 2013 floods that impacted southern Alberta, the Government of Alberta, professional organizations, businesses, community groups, NGOs and municipalities have evaluated Alberta’s flood management capacity. A robust flood forecasting program is a critical component in ensuring Alberta is prepared for future floods.

Improving Alberta’s forecasting program has been identified as an area of action for flood management in the province. In August 2013, Alberta WaterSMART published a collaborative paper titled, “The 2013 Great Alberta Flood: Actions to Mitigate, Manage and Control Future Floods”. Practitioners from across Alberta, Canada and the world participated in developing this report and collectively identified specific actions to mitigate, manage and control the impacts of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. These actions were summarized into six overarching recommendations. The project “Flood Indicators: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” aligns with the recommendation that called for improving Alberta’s operational capacity to deal with potential extreme weather scenarios through better modelling and data management.

Flood Forecasting Visual Markers in Japan

Stationary Poles to Identify Hazard Levels in Japan

The impetus for the “Flood Indicators: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” project was the June 2013 floods, which prompted evaluation of Alberta’s flood response and management ability on a large-scale. The “Flood Indicators: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” project examined how Alberta and other jurisdictions – both Canadian and international – forecast flood events and to identify best practices that could be applied in Alberta. The research included in this project focused on identifying successes and areas for improvement in Alberta’s forecasting program. This research was followed by a review of flood forecasting programs including communication strategies, timing of warnings and the roles of government and technology. Additionally, notable successes were researched in select jurisdictions, including: British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, European Union, Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Colorado (USA) and Japan.

Published Reports

Research findings and analysis from the “Flood Indicators: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” project are summarized in two reports. Jurisdictional research is presented in the report, “Flood Forecasting Jurisdictional Review: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta”. The findings from this jurisdictional review were presented at a February 2014 workshop hosted by Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions. The workshop brought together flood forecasting experts from a variety of jurisdictions to discuss how Alberta’s flood forecasting program could be improved. Recommendations provided by experts in attendance at the workshop are summarized in the second project report titled, “Options for Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta: A Synthesis Report of the February 2014 Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions ‘Flood Forecasting Methods and Models – Comparing Approaches and Best Practices’ Workshop”.

The purpose of the flood forecasting workshop was to explore and evaluate best practices, leading technologies and communications strategies that could be relevant to accurately monitor, assess and forecast flood potential in Alberta. A variety of presentations were given on topics including how the Alberta River Forecasting Centre operated during the 2013 flood, current hydrological and geomatics research in western Canada and flood forecasting programs in different jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Manitoba, Scotland and Netherlands.

Findings

The purpose of a flood forecasting program is to forecast flood events in order to provide sufficient warning to authorities and the public. A flood forecasting program includes the following components: data collection and monitoring; modelling and forecasting; warning construction and communication; and response and further dissemination.

A high-level comparative review of forecasting programs within Canada and around the world had not recently been completed, therefore, this project sought to fill that gap. The purpose of this project, however, was not to assess or critique the Alberta River Forecasting Centre’s ability to forecast the June 2013 floods, but rather to identify general areas for improvement in Alberta’s forecasting program.

The research conducted as part of this project focused on Alberta’s flood forecasting program and the challenges that Alberta is facing. These challenges include:

  • Data collection;
  • Communication with authorities;
  • Timing of warnings;
  • Flash flood warnings;
  • Communication with the public;
  • Public education and awareness; and
  • Forecasting group staffing and capacity.

After completing the review of other Canadian and international jurisdictions, it became clear that many forecasting programs share similar structures as well as challenges. Many of these programs, however, also have unique characteristics that could be of interest to Alberta.

The hope is that the research findings from this project can act as a launching point for further research and action with the end goal of making Alberta’s flood forecasting program as robust as possible.

Next Steps

Both reports produced for the “Flood Indicators: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” project indicate a number of next steps that Alberta can pursue in the area of flood forecasting. The workshop made clear that in order for improvements to be realized, increased dialogue – not only between groups and universities, but also between governments – will be an important step to realizing the solutions proposed in the “Options for Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta: A Synthesis Report of the February 2014 Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions ‘Flood Forecasting Methods and Models – Comparing Approaches and Best Practices’ Workshop” report.  

Furthermore, research findings in the “Flood Forecasting Jurisdictional Review: Improving Flood Forecasting in Alberta” report indicate that continued support and resolve from policymakers, communities and individuals to address flood forecasting challenges is critically important. Despite the challenges described above, Alberta’s approach to flood forecasting is established and has been successful in the past. Areas such as data collection methods, modelling and data management share similarities with other jurisdictions that remain leaders in flood forecasting. Nonetheless, Alberta’s geography, climate and river systems pose challenges that need a well-rounded, state-of-the-art flood forecasting and warning dissemination system.