EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Designing an optimal flood forecasting chain using convective-scale ensembles: a sensitivity study.

Céline Cattoën1, Stuart Moore2, and Trevor Carey-Smith3
Céline Cattoën et al.
  • 1National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Hydrology, Christchurch, New Zealand (
  • 2National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Meteorology, Wellington, New Zealand
  • 3National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Meteorology, Wellington, New Zealand

Flooding is New Zealand’s most frequent natural disaster with an average annual cost of approximately NZ$51 million. Accurately forecasting convective and orographically enhanced precipitation for hydrometeorological ensemble prediction systems is challenging in Aotearoa New Zealand’s complex topographic regions with fast-responding and mostly ungauged catchments. Globally, designing convection-permitting ensemble flood forecasting chains is still a work in progress, with errors in the forecast rainfall amount and the location or timing of storm events a significant contributor to uncertainties in river flow forecasts. Given operational, computational and model representation constraints, compromises are often required on ensemble size, frequency of forecast issue times, NWP model resolution, domain size and data assimilation strategies. This research aims to design an optimal operational forecasting chain for convective-scale flood forecasting in New Zealand.  In doing so, our goal is to improve uncertainty representation in hydrometeorological forecasts during flood events by understanding the impact of convective-scale ensemble strategies.

The NWP model used is a local implementation of the UK Met Office-developed Unified Model.  The New Zealand Convective-Scale Model (NZCSM) is NIWA’s 1.5km high-resolution operational forecast model, configured such that convective processes develop explicitly. The New Zealand Ensemble (NZENS) is configured with similar convection-permitting model physics but operates with a 4.5km horizontal resolution and features up to 18 members.  Flood forecasts were produced by coupling several weather ensemble configurations with the semi-distributed hydrological model TopNet and its built-in statistical ensemble generation tool. TopNet is based on TOPMODEL concepts of runoff generation controlled by sub-surface water storage.

In this study, we evaluated three ensemble strategies for flood forecasting. The experiment design allowed for the effect of model horizontal resolution (and thus the representation of orography) to be investigated using ensemble forecasts from consecutive initialization times (a “lagged ensemble”), and from the same initialisation time (a “dynamical ensemble”). The third forecasting chain is a “statistical ensemble” generated by perturbing the deterministic 1.5km NWP model and hydrological states. For recent flood events across multiple case study catchments, we evaluated the impact of each approach on flood forecast performance. Flood forecasts were most sensitive to convective-scale forecasts with consecutive issue time initialisations (lagged ensemble) over other hydrometeorological ensemble configurations considered. Given dynamical ensembles are computationally expensive, the study suggests an optimal strategy might be to produce a small ensemble pool of dynamical forecasts at more frequent issue times combined with statistically post-processed ensembles rather than a larger ensemble pool generated less frequently.

How to cite: Cattoën, C., Moore, S., and Carey-Smith, T.: Designing an optimal flood forecasting chain using convective-scale ensembles: a sensitivity study., EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-8098,, 2021.