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New recipe for flash floods: Flood watch

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Forget technical devices of the 21st century. The best way to protect yourself against flash floods is the warning of a man who watches the flooding river at the boarder of the village, meteorologists say.

A month after flash floods swept across the country the meteorologists are coming up with their own plan to minimise the damages. “Not even modern technology can determine exactly how much water will fall and at what time during a storm in a particular village,” says Ivan Obrusník, head of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.

The best bet is a method that has been tested out before. “Crisis plans need to be re-evaluated because of the flash floods. Everything happens so fast that members of the anti-flood committee don’t even have time to meet,” Obrusník says. The meteorologists want to establish the new function of so-called flood watch a part of the new plans.

In practice it would be simple. When meteorologists determine that heavy torrential rain might take place in certain area, they would issue a warning to fire fighters who would send out reports to towns, villages and regional authorities. Mayors of the threatened areas would establish a watch that would examine the rivers and other places that might be affected by flash floods. In case of danger the watch would report to the mayor who might then use the siren for evacuation.

Meteorologists did not invent this system. Similar ones have already been in operation in some Czech towns. The system, however, is not included among the national regulations. Village Skorkov in the Mladá Boleslav region, for example, sends out the watch during second flood level warning. “It paid back many times. As soon as we know that the Jizera river is rising, reaching dangerous levels at the Železný Brod, I call the local fire fighters and we are ready to react immediately to the high waters,” Skorkov Mayor Miloš Honzák said.

The system is not so expensive
There is one more method that can be used to forecast the torrent and is being used in Olešnice in Orlické hory. They have two rainfall metres above the village and a detection device for the rising level of the river. When rainfall exceeds the pre-set intensity and thus there might be danger, mayor and other people from the flood committee get a warning text message to their mobile phones.

The system is not expensive, it cost CZK 15,000 in 2002. It was covered for by the hydrometeorological institute and was supposed to become a model for other villages threatened by water. Nobody else bought it, though.

Flood watches or the warning system would not have to be used by all municipalities. The cabinet is planning to ask experts to draw maps of areas threatened by flash floods. The maps would determine what danger is lurking there during floods, what the water can do and how people should react.

The cabinet has also already discussed the report on what failed during the floods. According to the head of the flood commission and Environmental Minister Ladislav Miko, the equipment of the meteorologists must improve and the forecast service needs to be strengthened, both by more staff and finances. The cabinet reached an identical conclusion after the winter floods in 2006, the meteorologists claim no significant improvement took place.

Back then, just like now, the computer server collapsed under the strain of those interested in weather forecasts and so the information was unavailable. Meteorologists will obtain CZK 10 million to strengthen the web site. Their budget, on the other hand will be cut. They are bound to get CZK 62 million less until 2010 and they need to lay off 12 people.

“We have no idea what to do about it. We would probably have to significantly limit our services, which is highly undesirable with regard to the growing number of crisis situations,” Obrusník says. He thinks the situation might be solved by granting the institute, now operating for six departments, greater independence. The institute still falls under the Environment Ministry.

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