NRW’s digital services supporting more people to act and prepare for flooding
In September 2020, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) introduced new digital services on its website aimed at improving how live flood warning and river data is shared before and during flood events.
Flood Warnings and Alerts (FWAA), 5-Day Flood Risk (5DFR) and River Levels, Rainfall and Sea Data (RRS) services are already being put to the test as communities across Wales feel the brunt of extensive periods of heavy rain.
Here, Andrew Wall, National Flood Risk Services Manager at NRW, reflects on how the new systems are performing and how they can help more people to understand and act upon their flood risk before the waters start to rise.
It will come as no surprise to those living in communities across Wales affected by flooding over recent weeks that the nation is already in the grip of a very wet winter. Met Office data revealed that Wales received the most rainfall of the UK nations in December (256.2mm) with Cardiff experiencing its wettest December in 72 years.
The impacts of heavy rain events before Christmas and the deluge of rain that fell during Storms Bella and Christoph over recent weeks showed us, yet again, how devastating the impacts of flooding can be for families, businesses and communities. Every flooded home is a personal tragedy, and our thoughts are with those still recovering today.
While we can never prevent all flooding, NRW will always do everything we can to help protect communities at risk.
And making sure that comprehensive flood risk and river level information is available to everyone is all part of the important work that we’re doing to improve the way we communicate flood risk to the people of Wales.
Increasingly, we’re seeing more people turning to digital platforms to get the information they need that is relevant to the area they live in.
When heavy rainfall and storms are predicted, we see a massive surge in traffic to our website and to our social media feeds. So, it’s vital that our online warning and informing services are robust.
In the months since the devastating storms of February 2020, NRW has launched new online data services which feature a number of improvements to the live flood warning and river level pages on our website.
The improvements include greater functionality, more detailed maps, more data from our network of gauges including rainfall and sea levels, improved mobile device compatibility, and a better user experience through quicker and easier navigation between information on warnings in force and river levels.
The new Flood Warnings and Alerts (FWAA), 5-Day Flood Risk (5DFR) and River Level, Rainfall and Sea Data (RRS) services were developed in response to extensive user feedback received in recent years. They were rigorously tested ahead of their launch, but there is no better test than to see how they perform during a significant rainfall event.
Taking Storm Christoph as our most recent example, the FWAA and 5DFR pages were viewed around 300,000 times over the course of five days. The RRS pages were visited almost by almost 200,000 visitors over the same period.
This period of weather was well predicted by the Met Office, yet the uncertainty surrounding exactly where the heaviest downpours would land made predicting where rivers would respond that much harder. But we did our job and issued alerts and warning with pace and precision as the rain started to fall.
And the number of warnings and alerts issued were significant – we issued 62 flood warnings and 57 flood alerts during this storm. Most significantly we also issued two Severe Flood Warnings on the River Dee, where we saw record river levels.
The rainfall totals seen during the main period of this event were up to 200mm in several sites across Wales. That’s a lot of rain across the whole country. The fact that we haven’t seen more significant impacts to people and property is testament to our flood defences - which did their job – together with our teams on the ground, our dedicated colleagues in the forecasting and warning team and hydrometry and telemetry teams, who always do a fantastic job in trying and testing situations.
These are services that can make a life or death difference at these times, and the work we do day in, day out to make sure our systems and services perform efficiently is crucial.
Our digital services coped with a huge hike in demand and provided clear, accessible and detailed data to homeowners, businesses and communities ahead of, and during, the storm.
Our website also provided an important function for people looking for information on river levels and warnings in their areas. The warning and informing pages had over 130,000 page views over the event period underlining the importance people place on this channel when looking for clear and up to date information when it’s most needed.
The ongoing growth and success of this service is testament to the excellent partnership working between our Flood Risk Management, ICT, communications and digital teams.
Indeed, there is no getting away from the fact that our climate is changing and that we’ll experience more extreme weather, more frequent storms, more rain and more flood risk over coming years. This means that we will all need to change and adapt to make ourselves as resilient as possible to the impacts.
NRW will continue to play its part by working with partners to prepare for extreme weather, by issuing flood warnings, deploying temporary flood defences and closing flood barriers where necessary. But we also need people and communities to play their parts by remaining vigilant, by checking their flood risk and by signing up to our free flood warning service.
It is really encouraging to see people across Wales proactively accessing flood warning services in order to keep themselves informed as they prepare for potential flooding.
We at NRW remain committed to continuously improving our services and to working with partners support communities as we collectively address the challenges posed by climate change.