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Flooded fields in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone during Storm Babet Alamy

New flood forecasting centre to open early next year

Flood forecasters will warn local authorities if it appears likely they’ll need to take defensive measures like sandbags or road closures.

A NEW FLOOD FORECAST centre is set to launch at Met Éireann early next year, the agency’s Head of Forecasting has said in an interview with The Journal.

In the wake of a year of several significant floods around the country due to storms, it’s hoped that the new centre will be able to provide clear information.

In particular, flood forecasters at the centre will be working with local authorities to warn them if it appears likely they will need to take defensive measures, like deploying sandbags or closing roads.

Speaking to The Journal, Met Éireann’s Head of Forecasting Eoin Sherlock said that the centre has been in development for a number of years and should be fully operational by around the end of January or start of February.

“That will mean we’ll have a flood forecast centre providing flood information and guidance to key stakeholders, particularly local authorities and our colleagues in the national directorate for emergency management,” Sherlock said.

Met Éireann has been examining river and coastal models, developing infrastructure, and recruiting staff for the new centre.

“Similar enough to what we have in the weather office, there’ll be hydrometeorologists, or ‘flood forecasters’, issuing guidance and advisories.”

Many parts of the country were hit by severely damaging floods this year, including Cork and Waterford during Storm Babet.

Floods are expected to become more regular and more threatening as climate change worsens.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to investigate if councils are accounting for the impacts of sea level rise in planning decisions.

Weather warnings

Overall, Met Éireann expects it will need to issue more Status Orange and Status Red weather warnings as the frequency and intensity extreme weather events increase due to climate change – though adjustments are also being made to the thresholds for weather warnings in line with the changing patterns.

“It’s likely that we’re going to see more of the Oranges, and, heaven forbid, the Reds, because we’re seeing the impacts of extreme weather,” Sherlock explained.

He outlined that weather warnings are tied to a threshold, such as an amount of rain in a particular period of time or how strong a wind will be.

“We have to look at it in terms of the climate. We analysed the climate over the last number of years and so to accurately reflect the changing climate, we’re modifying the thresholds.

One of the changes is an increase to the Yellow wind warning threshold from 50 to 55 kilometres per hour. Another is an increase to the threshold for a Yellow low temperature warning as the number of frost nights declines.

“We’ll be slightly modifying the threshold for a number of meteorological parameters to reflect that the climate has changed.”

Globally, climate records are being broken year on year.

If global average temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees, the world “faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards” in the next 20 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Exceeding a 1.5 degree rise, even temporarily, would lead to “additional severe impacts, some of which will be irreversible”.

Sherlock said that meteorologists in Ireland have observed more and more extreme weather events this year.

“We had periods of drought. We had the hottest June on record and the wettest July on record. We had a marine heatwave as well, which really hasn’t been something we’ve seen in Ireland,” he said.

“This is the first time we’ve had so many storms so early in the in the year. For the first time, we’ve had two named storms on a Saturday and a Sunday – Storm Elin and Storm Fergus. We had Storm Babet with the flooding in Middleton. We had the tornado in Leitrim.

“There’s clear science that our climate is changing. We’re seeing extreme weather events more regularly. This is the way the world is headed, unfortunately, due to the changing climate.

Sherlock said that more days of sunshine will mean people will need to be cautious about how much time they spend in the sun and protect themselves from risks like developing skin cancer.

Additionally, “another thing we have to be careful about is heat impacts on particularly vulnerable people and the elderly”.

“At night, if temperatures don’t go below 18 or 19 degrees, your body doesn’t have an opportunity to cool down and that can be very difficult for elderly people and people who have underlying conditions,” he said.

“You wouldn’t have thought in Ireland that we’d have that, but we’re seeing warmer and warmer temperatures — and we’re seeing more heatwaves.”

Speaking to reporters, Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said Ireland must “focus on adaptation and protecting ourselves against climate impact, not just trying to reduce emissions”.

“I do think there has been a game-changer in terms of understanding this — that it isn’t just about culverting rivers and concrete embankments and so on, it’s about how you treat the river upstream and how you manage the source of the water and how you hold it back through grassland management, forestry management, peatland restoration, using natural floodplain areas,” he said.

He added: “I think the Office of Public Works are starting to understand that.”

“The work we’re doing on the Land Use Review will help because that has to optimise for so many different things but included in that is managing our water system. It’s not impossible, and it’s often I think as well nature-based solutions as well as the physical works that the OPW will do.”

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