Following the escalation of the Russia-Ukraine international armed conflict in 2022, there was a need to support humanitarian operations with the provision of support based on meteorological information. The EU‑funded programme for Prevention, Preparedness and Response to natural and man-made disasters in Eastern Partnership countries – phase 3 (PPRD East 3) has adapted the activities originally planned in Ukraine into operational intervention, by supporting the civil protection authorities in structuring and strengthening civil protection and humanitarian operations.
In response to the humanitarian crisis that followed the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, planned capacity-building activity in the area was modified, as requested by DG ECHO, addressing new needs arising from the conflict. As a result, the programme worked directly with humanitarian responders in the field to design and establish an Impact-Based Forecast (IBF) bulletin and its consequent Early Warning to Early Action (EWEA) protocols.
PPRD East 3
The PPRD East 3 programme, which is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) and coordinated by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, was launched in October 2020. Its aim was to enhance the early warning systems and planning capacities of the civil protection authorities of five Eastern Neighbourhood Partnership Initiative (ENPI) East countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia). The overarching goal is to work in a multi-stakeholder framework on developing Early Warning to Early Action (EWEA) systems that ensure actions are taken promptly. This is important to reach the high operative standards required for participation in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Main components of the Impact-Based Forecast bulletin
The IBF is a daily bulletin that provides situational awareness to organisations responsible for managing the crisis caused by the conflict. It offers information on hydro-meteorological events that have a significant impact on humanitarian operations and on the population in Ukraine and Moldova, and in a buffer area where many refugee movements were concentrated especially in the first months of the conflict.
The IBF combines information on weather variables, encompassing low temperatures, rain, wind, snow, and biometric indices, with data on particular vulnerabilities. This information includes the locations of reception centres, important border crossing points, numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, locations of Red Cross mobile clinics, and other infrastructure, such as roads that are crucial for logistics. Most of the data on exposed assets are shared directly by the Italian Red Cross, which is part of the development team of the bulletin and uses this tool operationally for more accurate short- and medium-term planning of its humanitarian intervention in the region.
Weather forecasts to better plan humanitarian operations
Synoptical overviews of the meteorological situation are provided on a daily basis by the national meteorological and hydrological services (NHMS) of Ukraine and Moldova (Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Center and the State Hydrometeorological Service of the Republic of Moldova), while 24 h to 144 h predictions are developed thanks to the data supplied by ECMWF.
In particular, weather data are retrieved from the numerical weather prediction model ICON run by the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS). This has been kindly shared by ECMWF in the framework of cooperation between PPRD East 3 and the South-East European Multi-Hazard Early Warning Advisory System project (SEE‑MHEWS‑A – https://www.see-mhews.org/) coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The ICON model provides data with a horizontal resolution of 2.5 kilometers between grid points and a temporal resolution of 1 hour. They are then aggregated in time and space and classified in colour-coded categories. They thus show alert levels to convey hazard information that is immediately identifiable, recognisable and comprehensible (see the minimum temperature forecast as an example).
Spatially aggregated values are represented at regional level, in Oblasts for Ukraine and districts for Moldova. They include:
- Biometric indices averaged over 24 hours
- Daily minimum and maximum temperature
- Daily maximum wind
- Rainfall accumulated over 24 hours.
Temperature, cumulative precipitation, and wind forecasts are then classified into four colour-coded categories, whereas biometric indices are classified into five (see the legend table). Snow cover and the probability of T<0 are neither spatially aggregated nor classified to preserve the granularity of the information in specific regions.
Threshold-trigger mechanism for EWEA
Thresholds for each category have been defined in close collaboration with humanitarian responders on the ground (mostly with the Italian Red Cross), based on expert judgment and considering the severity of impacts on specific factors, such as roads, internally displaced persons, and population.
Weather conditions and hydrometeorological hazards, such as heavy snowfall, ice on roads, and flooding, can hinder access to certain areas and aid delivery. Furthermore, they can affect a highly vulnerable population that is often forced to move and may not have access to proper heating. For this reason, the potential impact on exposed persons is also represented through a synoptic visualisation of the population experiencing low temperatures.
To better meet the needs of teams operating on the ground, in areas where most humanitarian operations are taking place, forecasts are provided at a finer spatial scale. This enables a clearer understanding of what responders need to be aware of and how weather conditions may affect their intervention in the coming days. Data are organised at smaller administrative levels (corresponding to Rajons for Ukraine), which enables more precise identifications of alert levels for intense and localised weather events.
Since the bulletin is automated, there is no evaluation of the data by meteorologists, meaning that alert levels depend only on the weather model outputs. Therefore, they might differ from the official warnings issued by the Ukrainian and Moldovan NHMS. To complement the IBF information and to underline the ‘one voice principle’ in civil protection, daily communications from Ukrainian and Moldovan NHMS are reported in the bulletin. This is also to reaffirm that the IBF does not substitute the official forecasts, but it is meant to be an instrument to establish a proper EWEA threshold-trigger mechanism for humanitarian actors.
A dynamic tool
A close exchange of information with experts actively involved in managing the crisis in Ukraine has enabled ad hoc changes to the bulletin. The IBF is a dynamic tool that has varied over time, evolving according to the seasons (with the inclusion/exclusion of some variables) and following the changes of hazard conditions. Above all, the bulletin was initially based on open-access data. However, through careful coordination work between various initiatives and thanks to support from the WMO, ECMWF, and the IMS, the PPRD East 3 consortium was able to draw on higher-resolution meteorological models that were more suitable to the bulletin’s purposes. Indeed, partnerships and collaboration between scientific and civil protection authorities have always been at the core of the IBF development. Such joint efforts of the PPRD East 3 consortium, DG ECHO, the WMO, ECMWF, the IMS, and the NHMS of Ukraine and Moldova have enabled the development of the IBF and its distribution among almost 18 different institutions.
Since the start of the activity, roughly 320 bulletins have been issued, making scientific expertise available to responders in the ongoing emergency. This has led, in turn, to the inclusion of civil protection strategies in humanitarian activities on the ground, enhancing EWEA processes and tools.
More information on PPRD East 3 activities related to Ukraine can be found at: https://www.pprdeast3.eu/news/impact-based-forecast/.