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Better weather forecasts and flood warnings by computer

Austrian software is providing the world’s highest-resolution weather forecasts and better understanding of the potential effect of flood waters and avalanches, as Tom Wilkie reports


aster decisions regarding flood defences at times of severe flooding can now be made due to a new feature for Visdom, a visual analysis system, designed by

a team headed by Professor Eduard Gröller and Dr Jürgen Waser at the Austrian company, VRVis Forschungs. At the same time, the Austrian meteorological

company MetGIS has announced that it is the first weather-forecasting company worldwide to use a computation grid based on resolutions of up to 30 metres for most regions of the world. MetGIS provides innovative weather forecasting services for leisure outdoor activities as well as for enterprises whose success depends on sun, wind, and precipitation. Te company is a spin-out from the

University of Vienna and, with the local experience of the variability of weather in the Alps, it is well aware that weather phenomena can differ considerably between neighbouring areas, valleys, and mountain regions. Tus, a good forecast has to include in its computation as much terrain detail as possible, explained Dr Gerald Spreitzhofer, co-developer and CEO of MetGIS. With the small grid size, he said: ‘We can offer our customers very detailed forecasts, updated several times a day.’ Users can retrieve the information in an

interactive way via Te meteorological values forecast for each point in the maps are shown beside the mouse cursor. Te pinpoint predictions are worldwide and can be accessed in eight languages. Tey are also available for remote regions and are being utilised by leisure outdoor activists and companies alike. In a similar fashion, the flood visualisation

soſtware, Visdom, from VRVis Forschungs, does not require a computing centre but can be used on handheld devices directly at the flood locations. Tis innovation enables emergency services to use the scarce time and computer resources at their disposal more efficiently, resulting in improved protection measures. Complex computations can tie up valuable resources, especially in crisis situations where


time is of the essence. Consequently, Gröller’s team at VRVis developed the new feature for Visdom to alleviate this pressure. Gröller said: ‘Many simulations reach unacceptable values for certain parameters long before they have completed their run. In this case, further computations are no longer expedient. But recognising these values – in stressful crisis situations – is a great challenge. Tis is why we have developed so-called Run Watchers.’ Gröller continued: ‘Run Watchers are

predefined criteria that are automatically applied to each time step of the simulation. Values remaining below are signalled by a green or yellow colour code. If the critical value is reached, Run Watchers issue a red colour signal. At the same time, it is possible to terminate the run of this simulation automatically.’ A specific scenario would be to compute the

impact of a flood barrier on the surrounding water level, for example. It is important here to compute the expected course of the flood over



hours or days. If the simulation shows that this particular barrier is being negatively impacted, aſter only a few hours of simulated time, this is signalled immediately by the corresponding Run Watcher. In developing the Run Watchers,

Gröller’s team not only relied on theoretical considerations in their computations, but collaborated closely with the Flood Control Centre in Cologne and the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology, headed by Professor Günter Blöschl who was the winner of the 2013 International Hydrology Prize. Visdom is a joint research initiative that investigates visualisation, simulation, and

Knowledge of local weather patterns is essential in Alpine regions

analysis techniques to assist decision-making. Its most prominent application is flood management. Te development was made possible by funding from the Austrian Science Fund FWF, among other sources, and is now published in the IEEE journal Transactions, on visualisation and computer graphics. MetGIS is used by avalanche warning

services, for example in the Spanish Pyrenees and the Indian Himalayas, and by state meteorological services, for example in Bhutan, and ski resorts. According to the company’s CEO, Dr Spreitzhofer, who has worked at the Swiss Federal Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Switzerland: ‘Fresh snow and wind are crucial factors in this context.’ Knowledge of local temperature, wind, and

precipitation forecasts can facilitate better assessment of avalanche danger because in mountainous areas locations – whether in the Alpine region or in international trekking, climbing and ski destinations – weather can be unstable and changeable within a few hundred metres. Te safety of climbers, mountaineers and skiers can be increased considerably by exact temperature forecasts for peaks and along the entire ascent or descent route, by small-scale predictions of wind speed, wind direction, fresh snow and the snow line. It is not only sportspersons and outdoor

enthusiasts who can profit from small-scale weather forecasts. In the field of open-cast mining, for example, reliable predictions are essential to minimise the risks of accidents. Road management companies, energy providers, agricultural companies, and the film industry all benefit from improved planning opportunities.

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