Journal cover Journal topic
Geoscience Communication An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 1, issue 1
Geosci. Commun., 1, 35-57, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Geosci. Commun., 1, 35-57, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 06 Dec 2018

Research article | 06 Dec 2018

Can seasonal hydrological forecasts inform local decisions and actions? A decision-making activity

Jessica L. Neumann1, Louise Arnal1,2, Rebecca E. Emerton1,2, Helen Griffith1, Stuart Hyslop3, Sofia Theofanidi1, and Hannah L. Cloke1,4,5 Jessica L. Neumann et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading, UK
  • 2European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECWMF), Reading, UK
  • 3Environment Agency, Kings Meadow House, Reading, UK
  • 4Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, UK
  • 5Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract. While this paper has a hydrological focus (a glossary of terms highlighted by asterisks in the text is included in Appendix A), the concept of our decision-making activity will be of wider interest and applicable to those involved in all aspects of geoscience communication.

Seasonal hydrological forecasts (SHF) provide insight into the river and groundwater levels that might be expected over the coming months. This is valuable for informing future flood or drought risk and water availability, yet studies investigating how SHF are used for decision-making are limited. Our activity was designed to capture how different water sector users, broadly flood and drought forecasters, water resource managers, and groundwater hydrologists, interpret and act on SHF to inform decisions in the West Thames, UK. Using a combination of operational and hypothetical forecasts, participants were provided with three sets of progressively confident and locally tailored SHF for a flood event in 3 months' time. Participants played with their day-job hat on and were not informed whether the SHF represented a flood, drought, or business-as-usual scenario. Participants increased their decision/action choice in response to more confident and locally tailored forecasts. Forecasters and groundwater hydrologists were most likely to request further information about the situation, inform other organizations, and implement actions for preparedness. Water resource managers more consistently adopted a watch and wait approach. Local knowledge, risk appetite, and experience of previous flood events were important for informing decisions. Discussions highlighted that forecast uncertainty does not necessarily pose a barrier to use, but SHF need to be presented at a finer spatial resolution to aid local decision-making. SHF information that is visualized using combinations of maps, text, hydrographs, and tables is beneficial for interpretation, and better communication of SHF that are tailored to different user groups is needed. Decision-making activities are a great way of creating realistic scenarios that participants can identify with whilst allowing the activity creators to observe different thought processes. In this case, participants stated that the activity complemented their everyday work, introduced them to ongoing scientific developments, and enhanced their understanding of how different organizations are engaging with and using SHF to aid decision-making across the West Thames.

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Short summary
Seasonal hydrological forecasts (SHF) can predict floods, droughts, and water use in the coming months, but little is known about how SHF are used for decision-making. We asked 11 water sector participants what decisions they would make when faced with a possible flood event in 6 weeks' time. Flood forecasters and groundwater hydrologists responded to the flood risk more than water supply managers. SHF need to be tailored for use and communicated more clearly if they are to aid decision-making.
Seasonal hydrological forecasts (SHF) can predict floods, droughts, and water use in the coming...