High-tech predictions of the impacts of extreme weather

March 14, 2016 by Constanze Böttcher, Youris.com

More data and the use of modern computing technology are crucial to assessing the effects of severe weather on infrastructure and finding ways to mitigate impacts

Storms, heavy rainfall, drought or flooding can cause considerable humanitarian and economic loss. These events can damage critical , such as roads, railways or power and telecommunication grids. For instance, during the latest flooding in the U.K. at the end of 2015, some 20,000 homes were left without power.

For society to be prepared, it is vital to know which infrastructure components are at risk or whether an entire network may break down during severe weather. The stakes are high, as are expected to become more frequent in the future due to climate change.

In a bid to reduce these uncertainties, scientists use complex computer simulations and large amounts of . High performance computing and the greater availability of data coupled with increased scientific knowledge have greatly improved weather forecasting.

But this could be improved even more. When it comes to rainfall in particular, "the impact of extreme weather is hard to forecast," says Herman Russchenberg, director of the TU Delft Climate Institute, the Netherlands. This is because forecasts lack the details that are necessary to assess risks on smaller scales—e.g., for certain infrastructure components or within cities.

In the future, high-tech instruments such as the next generation of weather radars will provide more detailed data, Russchenberg hopes. Moreover, citizen scientists voluntarily supplying data obtained with their mobile phones will add to the large data pool.

"Combining all these sources of information and feeding them into high-resolution models will allow us to produce better rain forecasts," he says.

To actually assess the consequences of , more knowledge, such as on the condition of infrastructure, is also necessary.

But while infrastructure owners – public authorities or private companies – do keep valuable data sets, these are not well utilised yet, says Daniel Straub, professor for Engineering Risk Analysis at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. Besides, "you need more complex models to extrapolate this data and to assess how certain infrastructure reacts under ," he adds.

This is precisely what researchers within the RAIN project want to achieve. "We collect data across Europe. We learn from that data and train our models to simulate what happens when the weather is intensified," says Pieter van Gelder, professor of Safety Science, and director of the Safety and Security Institute at the Delft University of Technology.

Satellite images are improving and drone technology will provide more detailed information on infrastructure networks. This will result in terabytes of data, which can only be handled by using advanced supercomputers, van Gelder stresses.

"That's really going to be a big data issue," Russchenberg agrees. Indeed, the future computer architecture for handling the tasks will be a hybrid system, he says.

Weather services will provide broader forecasts using . But to zoom in on sensitive areas and infrastructure, models will be run on distributive systems, he concludes.

Explore further: Mitigating the impacts of extreme weather

Related Stories

Mitigating the impacts of extreme weather

January 9, 2015

Extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, storms, floods or forest fires can considerably damage roads, railways, communication systems and power lines. Now, researchers within the EU-funded RAIN project—due to be ...

Clouds may have more of an impact on El Nino than thought

January 5, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S., Australia and Germany has found evidence that suggests cloud formation may have a much bigger impact on weather patterns associated with El Niño events than has been ...

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.