Preparing for Europe's drought with the best in forecasting

Learn how HydroForecast is crucial to Europe's drought solutions and can help better prepare for future uncertainty in the coming years and decades.

May 30, 2023
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Though only spring, intense heat and drought’s one-two punch is already overtaking Europe and its headlines. Italy’s largest river is running as dry as ever with water levels already dropping as low as they were last summer1; parts of France have discontinued building permits as there’s hardly sufficient water for current residents2; and the continent as a whole is bracing for an intensely arid summer, with more than 25% already under drought duress as of April. 

If years past and current trajectories are any indication, this is a new pattern that is unlikely to deviate.

As news agencies regularly report, drought and heat are not isolated issues. Rather, the pair are instigators: they exacerbate problems that further disrupt what we’ve come to view as ‘normal’. Drought and heat decrease arable land, disrupt trade routes due to low water flow, heighten food insecurity, and intensify heat waves that alone are lethal to humans. 

However, although these issues are important to highlight, there is one underlying factor that often gets dismissed: namely, that commonly used models for anticipating and bracing for these problems are rapidly becoming antiquated. The same notions that constitute our ideas of normal are unfortunately mirrored in the tools we presently use to forecast. That’s to say: both rely on patterns and assumptions that have become increasingly irregular and, in many cases, have broken down completely.

Why is this? Water forecasts, which are important for the planning and effective allocation of resources, are becoming unreliable due to their reliance on historical data, i.e. “normal”. Historical data that was previously reliable as an indicator of the future is no longer the case now that climate change has fully emerged onto the scene as, arguably, the main character of this century. Existing models that translate weather into water forecasts are quickly becoming outdated because they aren't built to handle the volatility and changing relationships between inputs from weather models, and they often don't take advantage of all the new and useful data that's out there now.

But wait. An easy, follow-up question to ask might be: why is a water forecasting system even important during a time of drought? 

Or in more crude terms: if there’s no water, then what is there to forecast? 

The answer and context are, understandably, a bit more complicated. To answer a simple question with a simple answer: every last drop of water counts in times of drought. However, another way to frame the question is to see these overlapping problems as one, overarching issue: unpredictability. Accurate weather forecasts translate into accurate water forecasts. Yet, because the relationship between weather and water runoff is changing from how traditional models understood it and parameterized it to be true, these traditional models aren’t capturing the new patterns. After all, patterns are great until they aren’t. Though headlines might be flooded with drought and disruption, a significant part of the solution lies in the root of the problem itself: solving for unpredictability in an ever-increasing unpredictable future.

If there is a positive spin to this, it’s that there is an opportunity to innovate, adapt, and respond with tools that are a better fit for the complex challenges both ahead and presently knocking at our door.

At Upstream Tech, we’ve designed a unique streamflow forecasting system that can be deployed in Europe – and anywhere in the world – in under 90 days. The model is distinct and more powerful than purely data driven machine learning models given our use of physical science that constrains the relationships between inputs and predictions. HydroForecast learns to represent hydrologic processes by identifying relationships between satellite observations, basin characteristics, meteorological forecasts, and streamflow measurements.

The accuracy of our forecasting system unlocks more flexibility for safe dam operations, hydropower generation, supply planning, and, indeed, anticipating not only this summer’s flow levels but potentially those decades out.

After all, what climate change is causing isn’t as simple as saying: drought and intense heat. There are also extreme fluctuations where there are intense periods of rain and storms. If those responsible for water resource management have access to data and information that allow better planning for unpredictability, and managing what water we do receive, there is a massive benefit to tackling the many disruptions Europe is currently facing. Alongside advancements in satellite data and groundwater monitoring, a better forecasting system like HydroForecast boosts our capacity to close the uncertainty gap that climate change, no matter where you are, creates. 

To learn how HydroForecast can help you, get in touch with our team or read more of our articles, below.


1. Lack of snow condemns Italy's Po to a desperately dry summer

2. Drought: Building permits suspended in nine south of France communes

3. Heat and Drought Force Europe to Accelerate Climate Adaptation

4. Europe is Drying Up

5. Europe’s next crisis: Water