The challenge of forecasting impacts of flash floods: test of a simplified hydraulic approach and validation based on insurance claim data
Up to now, flash flood monitoring and forecasting systems, based on rainfall radar measurements and distributed rainfall–runoff models, generally aimed at estimating flood magnitudes – typically discharges or return periods – at selected river cross sections. The approach presented here goes one step further by proposing an integrated forecasting chain for the direct assessment of flash flood possible impacts on inhabited areas (number of buildings at risk in the presented case studies). The proposed approach includes, in addition to a distributed rainfall–runoff model, an automatic hydraulic method suited for the computation of flood extent maps on a dense river network and over large territories. The resulting catalogue of flood extent maps is then combined with land use data to build a flood impact curve for each considered river reach, i.e. the number of inundated buildings versus discharge. These curves are finally used to compute estimated impacts based on forecasted discharges. The approach has been extensively tested in the regions of Alès and Draguignan, located in the south of France, where well-documented major flash floods recently occurred. The article presents two types of validation results. First, the automatically computed flood extent maps and corresponding water levels are tested against rating curves at available river gauging stations as well as against local reference or observed flood extent maps. Second, a rich and comprehensive insurance claim database is used to evaluate the relevance of the estimated impacts for some recent major floods.