Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 00:15 UK

Heavy-rain forecasts 'to improve'

Flooded village (Image: PA)
Drainage systems were unable to cope during the 2007 downpours

The UK Meteorological Office says it has improved its ability to pinpoint where and when heavy rain will occur.

Forecasts of severe downpours will now be issued up to 24 hours earlier, it says, giving local authorities more time to prepare flood control measures.

The Met Office is also assembling a team of specialists who will issue the early alerts to emergency services.

Last summer, a series of unprecedented floods affected tens of thousands of homes and caused 3bn worth of damage.

"The events of last summer have focused the attention of all agencies involved in severe weather and flood forecasting," said Paul Davis, the Met Office's extreme rainfall service manager.

"The Met Office has accelerated the delivery of its science and technology capabilities in order to meet the challenges ahead."

The developments include:

  • A system called STEPS, which models radar data to provide predictions of surface rainfall in order to pinpoint locations of extreme rainfall several hours before it occurs
  • Software that creates multiple forecasts up to two days in advance, allowing forecasters to assess the degree of uncertainty surrounding possible extreme weather events
  • A computer model that forecasts how rainstorms will evolve, which will enable more precise predictions of rain intensity and location

During the 2007 floods, England and Wales experienced the greatest volume of rainfall since records began in 1766.

Met Office head of forecasting explains the improvements

Mr Davis said this was the main reason why there was such widespread devastation.

"The weather forecasts and alerts to emergency responders issued last summer were both accurate and timely," he said.

"But the intensity and impact of the rain that fell... was wholly unprecedented."

In a number of cases, the flooding was not predicted by the Environment Agency's flood warning system because it was a result of rainwater overwhelming already saturated drains and surfaces and did not involve rivers or coastal flooding.

Sir Michael Pitt, chairman of the review of the response to the 2007 floods, welcomed the Met Office's announcement.

Digital map (Image: BBC)

"The events of 2007, where the public was given technical warnings which they often could not interpret, without advice on what action they should take, must not be repeated."

He added that his final report, expected to be published towards the end of June, would call on the Met Office and Environment Agency to work together to "model and warn against all sources of flooding".

"This will improve the speed and usefulness of flood warnings and ensure the public receive clear and consistent advice," Sir Michael explained.

"Measures like this would have reduced the confusion experienced by the public in 2007 and will reduce the impact of future flooding."

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