Articles | Volume 19, issue 8
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 3365–3385, 2015
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 3365–3385, 2015

Research article 03 Aug 2015

Research article | 03 Aug 2015

A pan-African medium-range ensemble flood forecast system

V. Thiemig2,1, B. Bisselink1, F. Pappenberger4,3,5, and J. Thielen1 V. Thiemig et al.
  • 1Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy
  • 2Utrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 3European Centre for Medium-Ranged Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), Reading, UK
  • 4School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  • 5College of Hydrology and Water Resources, Hohai University, Hohai, China

Abstract. The African Flood Forecasting System (AFFS) is a probabilistic flood forecast system for medium- to large-scale African river basins, with lead times of up to 15 days. The key components are the hydrological model LISFLOOD, the African GIS database, the meteorological ensemble predictions by the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Ranged Weather Forecasts) and critical hydrological thresholds. In this paper, the predictive capability is investigated in a hindcast mode, by reproducing hydrological predictions for the year 2003 when important floods were observed. Results were verified by ground measurements of 36 sub-catchments as well as by reports of various flood archives. Results showed that AFFS detected around 70 % of the reported flood events correctly. In particular, the system showed good performance in predicting riverine flood events of long duration (> 1 week) and large affected areas (> 10 000 km2) well in advance, whereas AFFS showed limitations for small-scale and short duration flood events. The case study for the flood event in March 2003 in the Sabi Basin (Zimbabwe) illustrated the good performance of AFFS in forecasting timing and severity of the floods, gave an example of the clear and concise output products, and showed that the system is capable of producing flood warnings even in ungauged river basins. Hence, from a technical perspective, AFFS shows a large potential as an operational pan-African flood forecasting system, although issues related to the practical implication will still need to be investigated.