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An early warning system for flash floods in hyper-arid Egypt

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Author(s): J. Cools | P. Vanderkimpen | G. El Afandi | A. Abdelkhalek | S. Fockedey | M. El Sammany | G. Abdallah | M. El Bihery | W. Bauwens | M. Huygens

Journal: Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
ISSN 1561-8633

Volume: 12;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 443;
Date: 2012;
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ABSTRACT
An early warning system (EWS) for flash floods has been developed for part of the Sinai peninsula of Egypt, an hyper-arid area confronted with limited availability of field data, limited understanding of the response of the wadi to rainfall, and a lack of correspondence between rainfall data and observed flash flood events. This paper shows that an EWS is not a "mission impossible" when confronted with large technical and scientific uncertainties and limited data availability. Firstly, the EWS has been developed and tested based on the best available information, this being quantitative data (field measurements, simulations and remote sensing images) complemented with qualitative "expert opinion" and local stakeholders' knowledge. Secondly, a set of essential parameters has been identified to be estimated or measured under data-poor conditions. These are: (1) an inventory of past significant rainfall and flash flood events, (2) the spatial and temporal distribution of the rainfall events and (3) transmission and infiltration losses and (4) thresholds for issuing warnings. Over a period of 30 yr (1979–2010), only 20 significant rain events have been measured. Nine of these resulted in a flash flood. Five flash floods were caused by regional storms and four by local convective storms. The results for the 2010 flash flood show that 90% of the total rainfall volume was lost to infiltration and transmission losses. Finally, it is discussed that the effectiveness of an EWS is only partially determined by technological performance. A strong institutional capacity is equally important, especially skilled staff to operate and maintain the system and clear communication pathways and emergency procedures in case of an upcoming disaster.
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