How does the ESRD River Forecast Centre respond to a flood?

In an emergency, nothing is more important than good information. Knowing what’s happening and what to expect helps first responders take the best possible course of action – possibly saving lives. But where does this information come from – and how does it get to the right people?

Aerial photo of Bowness Park in Calgary after the summer 2013 floods

Flood waters can quickly and drastically change the landscape; to respond to these changes, we need good information.

As we’ve discussed previously, Alberta’s River Forecast Centre uses a variety of data – including rainfall, water levels, snowpack, soil moisture, and historical data – to develop short term forecasts that tell municipalities when and where flooding is likely to occur. This information comes from several sources, including Alberta’s Fire Weather Office, the Water Survey of Canada, and of course, the centre itself. The centre issues advisories, watches, and warnings accordingly – and municipalities use that information to prepare for potential flooding.

But what about during a flood – how does the role of the centre change once the waters have already risen? As you might expect, things get pretty intense. Here, our staff explain the process in their own words:

Some highlights from the video:

  • When flood watches and warnings kick in, the information is sent not just to the Alberta Emergency Alert System, but to the affected municipalities – so they can share this information with their emergency personnel and start planning as soon as possible.
  • When significant rainfall is in the forecast, 24/7 operations go into effect at the centre, engaging a number of teams throughout the province. Everyone – from monitoring staff and data analysis teams to IT personnel – works full-tilt to make sure updated information is available as quickly as possible.
  • As conditions change – rivers peak, and rain subsides or continues to fall – the centre continues measuring and updating forecasts. This can get complicated: rising flood waters can wash gauges away from riverbanks, rendering data gathering stations useless. When this happens, ESRD sends monitoring teams out to record water level information in person – ensuring that forecasts are made with the most up-to-date data available.
  • Updated forecasts are provided throughout the flooding event – municipalities are notified when the flooding river peaks and when the waters begin to recede. This helps first responders to time their efforts appropriately.

Although this information is crucial, it doesn’t generate effective flood response on its own – we need first responders and emergency teams to do that. As we saw this summer, municipalities and emergency personnel are on the frontlines of flood response – but when the situation is severe, Alberta’s Environment Support and Emergency Response Team (ASERT) jumps in to assist. Check back next week for a first-hand account of ASERT’s response to the southern Alberta floods.

One thought on “How does the ESRD River Forecast Centre respond to a flood?

  1. Pingback: Alberta flood hazard studies: what changes after a flood? | Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development

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