Ensemble predictions and perceptions of risk, uncertainty, and error in flood forecasting

David Demeritt*, Hannah Cloke, Florian Pappenberger, Jutta Thielen, Jens Bartholmes, Maria Helena Ramos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

123 Citations (Scopus)


Under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, there are a number of international initiatives to promote the development and use of so-called ensemble prediction systems (EPS) for flood forecasting. The campaign to apply these meteorological techniques to flood forecasting raises important questions about how the probabilistic information these systems provide can be used for what in operational terms is typically a binary decision of whether or not to issue a flood warning. To explore these issues, we report on the results of a series of focus group discussions conducted with operational flood forecasters from across Europe on behalf of the European Flood Alert System. Working in small groups to simulate operational conditions, forecasters engaged in a series of carefully designed forecasting exercises using various different combinations of actual data from real events. Focus group data was supplemented by a follow-up questionnaire survey exploring how flood forecasters understand risk, uncertainty, and error. Results suggest that flood forecasters may not instinctively use ensemble predictions in the way that promoters of EPS perhaps think they should. The paper concludes by exploring the implications of these divergent 'epistemic cultures' for efforts to apply ensemble prediction techniques developed in the context of weather forecasting to the rather different one of flood forecasting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-127
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Hazards
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2007


  • Ensemble forecasting
  • Epistemic cultures
  • European Flood Alert System
  • Risk communication


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