Can seasonal hydrological forecasts inform local decisions and actions? An in-the-moment decision-making activity
Seasonal hydrological forecasts (SHF) provide insight into the river and groundwater levels that might be expected over the coming months. This is valuable for informing future flood or drought risk and water availability, yet studies investigating how SHF are used for decision-making are limited. Our activity was designed to capture how different water sector users, broadly flood forecasters, water resource managers and groundwater hydrologists, interpret and act on SHF to inform decisions in the West Thames, UK. Using a combination of operational and hypothetical forecasts, participants were provided with 3 sets of progressively skilful and locally tailored SHF for a flood event in 3 months' time. Participants played with their day-job hat on and were not informed whether the SHF represented a flood, drought or business-as-usual scenario. Participants increased their decision/action choice in response to more skilful and locally tailored forecasts. Flood forecasters and groundwater hydrologists were most likely to request further information about the situation, inform other organisations and implement actions for preparedness. Water resource managers more consistently adopted a watch and wait approach. Local knowledge, risk appetite and experience of previous flood events were important for informing decisions. Discussions highlighted that forecast uncertainty does not necessarily pose a barrier to use, but SHF need to be presented at a finer spatial resolution to aid local decision-making. Better communication of SHF that are tailored to different user groups is also needed. In-the-moment activities are a great way of creating realistic scenarios that participants can identify with, whilst allowing the activity creators to observe different thought-processes. In this case, participants stated that the activity complemented their everyday work, introduced them to ongoing scientific developments and enhanced their understanding of how different organisations are engaging with and using SHF to aid decision-making across the West Thames.