An Integrated Graphical Severe Weather Warning Display System
for Europe - progress report

Nick Grahame, Met Office

1. Background

In past newsletters we have read about the exchange of severe weather warnings between neighbouring countries within Europe. There have also been many discussions at WGCEF meetings about the use of graphical symbols as a possible way of relaying essential information efficiently. The benefits of such a method are that it bypasses any language barriers and forecasters, in particular, are familiar with the meteorological symbols relating to SYNOP' s for example. Perhaps the most compelling factor to take the idea forward occurred at a workshop on the December 1999 storms held at Toulouse in October 2000 (see WGCEF newsletter No.6). It became clear during the workshop that a more integrated and efficient approach to the exchange of severe weather warnings was needed and would have proved to be highly beneficial. At that time, Meteo-France were in the process of completely reviewing their internal warnings procedures and the prototype Internet based 'meteorological vigilance' system was presented at the workshop. The pieces of the jigsaw were beginning to come together and various discussions between European colleagues and encouragement from Manfred Kurz (DWD) eventually resulted in a Met Office proposal for an integrated graphical severe weather warning display system to be discussed at the EUMETNET Council meeting in April 2001. The proposal was also in line with ideas discussed by the WMO Working Group on Exchange of Warnings.

2. Developments during 2001

The EUMETNET Council supported the proposal and it was agreed that Meteo France would become project manager for the first stage in collaboration with KNMI and the Met Office. A small committee was set up to discuss the feasibility and requirement for an integrated display system and it was agreed at a meeting in June 2001 that the concept of 'meteorological vigilance', as tested by Meteo-France, could be applied to a wider system for Europe and accessed via Internet. (Bernard Roulet' s article contained within this newsletter provides more details on the Meteo-France system which became operational during Autumn 2001). The committee produced a report and invited interested parties across Europe to attend a one and a half day workshop on the proposed system, planned for December 2001 and to be held in Toulouse.

3. More details on the workshop (13th/14th December 2001)

One of the aims of the workshop was to gauge the amount of interest for an integrated display system as proposed by the committee and it was therefore encouraging to find that there were 25 participants representing 15 countries. Olivier Moch (Meteo France) welcomed everyone to the workshop and Claude Pastre (EUMETNET) followed to give a brief background on how warnings are exchanged at present and why EUMETNET were interested in the original proposal. Frank Kroonenberg (KNMI) then summarised the results of a questionnaire about the exchange of severe
weather warnings which was carried out by Frank van Lindert (KNMI). One of the conclusions from that questionnaire was that the current WAFOR system for exchange of warnings was not a viable proposition.

Some time was then set aside for contributions from a few of the participants. Liisa Fredrikson (FMI, Finland) presented the FMI warnings system which had been recently introduced in a graphical format on their website. She had reservations about the integration of warnings systems across Europe but accepted that it may be possible. Angel Rivera (INM, Spain) described the Spanish warning system displayed on the Internet but also expressed some concerns about an integrated system, mainly relating to the thresholds used for any particular severe weather element. Herbert Gmoser (ZAMG, Austria) presented some results from a recent WMO RA-VI questionnaire on public warnings showing that 87% thought that there should be a centralised website to access such information.

Olivier Moch continued the session with a detailed explanation of the development and implementation of the Meteo-France 'Vigilance' system whilst Antoine Marchetti (French Civil Protection) described the importance of collaboration with the relevant authorities. For instance, it had been mutually agreed (after much discussion) that four levels of vigilance (green, yellow, orange, red) was the optimum number for all concerned. Olivier Moch also reported that the new system had performed well since going operational — automatic verification is built in. As an aside, it was interesting to note that a vigilance state of 'orange' had been declared for some of the south-eastern departments and parts of Corsica to warn of snow as the first cold spell of the winter swept across Europe whilst the workshop was the in progress.

Much discussion followed with the issue of thresholds again being one of the items of concern. The aim of my presentation (on behalf of the committee) was then to describe, in more detail, the proposal for an integrated European graphical severe weather warning display system and emphasise the concept of meteorological vigilance as a convenient and efficient link to severe weather warnings issued by individual National Meteorological Services (NMS' s) without compromising national procedures. The vision presented was for a map of Europe available via Internet where each country would be divided into sub-areas (departments in the case of France, for example) with these coloured green, yellow, orange or red depending on decisions made by the participating NMS's. A zoom facility would be available whereby a simple 'click' on an area of interest would enable the user to display a graphical representation of the severe weather parameter relating to the vigilance state. Further information such as the full text message of the warning could then be accessed, though this could be password protected if deemed necessary by the participating NMS. Thresholds for weather parameters would remain under the control of the NMS.

Further interesting discussion followed including the fact that the word 'vigilance' has no apparent translation in German. However, at the end of the first day it was important to establish the basic principles of the proposal, namely the acknowledgement of a European meteorological vigilance or awareness map as a feasible way forward and the appliance of graphical symbolism as the most efficient method of exchanging information about severe weather warnings. The enthusiasm of Michael Walsh (Irish Met. Service) to take these principles forward was welcomed as
the first session came to an end. Later that evening, we all reconvened at a very pleasant restaurant opposite the Place du Capitole in the centre of Toulouse for a wonderful meal, courtesy of Meteo-France.

On day two of the workshop we were treated to the first snow showers of the winter in Toulouse. The committee members together with Bernard Strauss (Meteo-France) met before everyone reconvened and agreed that the best way to proceed would be to hold an open forum concentrated into two sessions:

1) Definition of a common concept - vigilance, number of levels and updating requirements;

2) Definition of the overall technical scope - range of severe weather parameters and a common symbolism.

In Session 1 (chaired by myself), it was important to canvas opinion from all those present and much constructive discussion took place with many issues and concerns covered. There would clearly be some difficulties to overcome in the future but the general concept of a vigilance or awareness map for Europe with updating facilities was beginning to register interest because it was seen as a relatively simple and flexible method of exchanging information. From these stepping stones, Session 2 (chaired by Frank Kroonenberg) allowed a consensus on listing a basic set of severe weather parameters which could be used in the proposed European system.

Following lunch, the committee drew up some preliminary conclusions from the workshop which included a draft proposal to be put forward to the EUMETNET Council meeting in April 2002. Further feedback allowed these conclusions to be finalised and then the question was asked:

Who would be interested in participating in the prototype European Meteorological Vigilance Display System?

The response was quite remarkable with all 15 countries registering an interest in this project of true cooperation. This called for a celebration and the champagne bottles were cracked open. Thanks must go particularly to Veronique Martin (Meteo-France) who organised the workshop. The committee are now in the process of finalising the proposal for the EUMETNET Council meeting and the decision to allow the project to proceed should hopefully be made.