IMPETUS: Improving predictions of drought to inform user decisions

IMPETUS - Improving predictions of UK drought - project logo

IMPETUS brought together scientists from the meteorological, land surface, surface water and groundwater communities and social scientists from the water demand and forecast usability communities. The aim of the project was to improve the forecasting of UK drought on monthly to decadal timescales, by improving meteorological, hydrological and water demand forecasts and how they are combined to produce drought forecasts.

Improved drought forecasting

This was done in conjunction with stakeholders to ensure that drought forecasts are relevant for decision making. Skilful forecasting of dry and drought conditions is critical to water resource management and agriculture both in the UK and globally.  A central activity in IMPETUS was engaging with stakeholders in the agricultural and public water supply sectors to understand their needs for drought forecast information. A key result for the public water supply sector is that understanding the regulatory context for UK drought management is essential for improving the uptake of drought forecasts. Similarly, the uptake of forecast information in the agricultural sector is highly dependent on forecast skill and the communication of forecasts in a relevant and timely manner. In addition to stakeholder engagement, IMPETUS has made advances in the science of drought forecasting.

Increased understanding of conditions that lead to drought

Working with stakeholders in the Met Office and the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), IMPETUS has increased our understanding of the atmospheric and hydrological conditions that lead to the onset, maintenance and cessation of drought events. In addition, IMPETUS researchers have co-developed new methods to produce skilful regional forecasts of UK winter rainfall one season ahead.  These results have been shared with the Met Office and ECMWF through a continuing series of workshops reviewing UK and European seasonal forecasts.

Improved stream flow forecasts

In addition, IMPETUS has supported the development of the Ensemble Streamflow Prediction system, which has contributed to improved stream flow forecasts within the monthly Hydrological Outlook (link to page 26).   During the 2017-2018 drought, researchers from the project provided advice on what we might expect in 2019-2020.  IMPETUS researchers were also engaged with the media during the dry spell, which resulted in numerous newspaper articles and media briefings to inform the interested public.

Better understanding of domestic water demand

Working with stakeholders from the water industry, IMPETUS has also improved our understanding of domestic water demand in the UK. One key result was to highlight the need for improved data on water usage to constrain models of domestic water demand. The project has involved internationally-leading scientists and social scientists from three NERC Research Centres (the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), four leading universities (Oxford, Reading, Newcastle, and Southampton), the Met Office and the ECMWF.

Prof Len Shaffrey, Project leader, University of Reading

Posted October 2019