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Tool successfully predicts river flooding two hours prior

Developments have been made as climate crisis expected to cause ''excessive flash floods''

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29 October 2019 02:57 PM

by

Oliver Little|Barcelona

The river Francolí flooded last week after its level increased three meters in just five minutes from a storm that hit Catalonia, leading to one of the state’s worst floods in recent years. 

The flood caused three deaths and a further four people are still missing, as well as damage to local houses and infrastructure. 

Two hours prior, Civil Protection had launched an alert through the councils, emergency services, media and social networks, requesting locals to limit movement. 

This was made possible thanks to a prevention and management tool for natural phenomena risk, developed within the framework of a European program coordinated by the UPC to deal with the climate emergency. 

It is believed that the tool will be able to prevent deaths and minimize the harmful impact of such events.

Tool allows for proaction instead of reaction 

Indeed, Civil Protection saw five days before that there was a possibility of extreme weather and consequences, which led to an internal notice. On Monday, the day before flooding, the tool marked a sudden rise in water levels of rivers and streams, and, although imprecise, led Civil Protection to take precautionary measures.

The flooding was registered at 22:10 in the evening. Meanwhile, at 20:42, the tool had helped Civil Protection detect that the river and streams in the Montblanc area would overflow in such an excessive way and 

The importance that such tools exist and are developed cannot be understated, with floods and wildfires alike the devastating consequences of the climate crisis seen in Catalonia in recent months. 

''Our goal is always avoiding deaths. We think the tool has helped us to avoid them, but there is some way to go before we prevent all deaths and to minimize damage and all that is inevitable in managing these events,'' said subdirector of the Coordination and Management of Emergencies, Sergio Delgado.  

''Before we used to act reactively, when it was happening, but these new tools allow us to prepare for extreme phenomena, but not as much as we would like, admittedly. Being aware a matter of hours before does not give you time to make preventative evacuations, but just to ask that people stay where they are,'' Delgado added.

The tools are not yet perfect. There have been instances of false alerts, and Delgado will look to eliminate these as well as increasing prediction time. 

He also notes the difficulties posed by not having a ''culture that easily assists preventive evacuations,'' as exists in the United States. 

Tools more important than ever as climate emergency intensifies

This certainly represents progress, but Delgado recognizes that the most pressing times are yet to come. 

''We are on the road to floods that go beyond the ordinary,'' he said, referencing the climate emergency. ''It rains very heavily and continuously. The parameters we are used to are changing.''

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  • Subdirector of the Coordination and Management of Emergencies Sergio Delgado observes image on prevention and management tool for natural phenomena risk (by Laura Fíguls)

  • Subdirector of the Coordination and Management of Emergencies Sergio Delgado observes image on prevention and management tool for natural phenomena risk (by Laura Fíguls)

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