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Met Office says it’s working on ‘forecasting capabilities’ following criticism over short notice NI weather warning

Communities in the North West were given little time to prepare before last weekend’s floods

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Rescue services at St Canice's Park in Eglinton.

Rescue services at St Canice's Park in Eglinton.

Rescue services at St Canice's Park in Eglinton.

The Met Office has acknowledged that a weather warning was issued at short noticed last weekend when hundreds of homes were impacted by flooding in the North West.

Met Office warnings are supposed to help the government, businesses, emergency responders and public to make informed decisions.

They are based on a combination of the expected severity of impacts and the likelihood of those impacts happening.

However, on July 23 a warning was issued minutes before a devastating flooding struck.

In excess of 450 households in the Derry and Strabane council area have applied for emergency funding in the aftermath.

Homes in Eglinton, Drumahoe and the Brandywell were worst affected in Derry, as well as parts of the Ballycolman estate and Carlton Drive area in Strabane.

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Feedback from those areas indicates that if volunteers hadn’t reacted so quickly and willingly, then many more homes would have suffered flooding.

Speaking at a Derry City & Strabane District Council meeting, Sinn Fein representative Patricia Logue raised concerns about the “lateness of the Met Office notification”.

She said: “That notification is the catalyst for other organisations to spring their emergency plans into action.”

Ms Logue requested that the council write to the Met Office to get clarification about what happened on Saturday.

Prior warning would have saved some homes from flooding in the Moor area which she represents, Ms Logue added.

Emergency responders from the Community Rescue Service (CRS) in Strabane noticed water running past their houses and self-tasked.

It wasn’t until an hour later they got official instruction that assistance was needed from the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).

Group Commander of the CRS Western District, Ivan Barr, said it was “horrendous” because of the “geographical size of the need”.

He explained: “We had to do something we wouldn’t normally do which was put out a public appeal and asked neighbours to come out and support their friends and families.

“They rallied to some tune. Where people could be critical because you can’t be in every area, I’ve only seen praise about how people responded so quickly.

“But we can only do that so often and it seems to be getting a wider problem and it’s going to get harder.

“Cadets from 12 years of age up were out and if it wasn’t for residents, honestly, this would have been far worse.”

The department has however said it was well prepared for this event and on a “heightened state of alert with staff on standby,” even though the weather warning was provided at “short notice”.

A DfI spokesperson added: “As a result of the efforts by the Department through Saturday evening and into the early hours of Sunday morning, many homes were protected from flooding.”

A Met Office spokesperson said the risk of heavy showers and thunderstorms had been highlighted in forecasts for Northern Ireland in the lead up to the weekend.

The Met Office was closely monitoring the situation throughout the day on Saturday and once “confidence in the areas likely to see impacts from heavy rainfall had increased”, a yellow warning was issued at 6.22pm.

“The line of heavy showers that caused the flooding seen in western Northern Ireland was very narrow and developed quickly during Saturday evening.

“Whilst our forecasts highlighted the likelihood of heavy showers developing, there was a lot of uncertainty, as is typical for summertime showers and thunderstorms, as to where these would occur and for how long they would last over a location.”

He added: “We continually review and work at improving our forecasting capability and ways to communicate impactful weather, to ensure that we provide as much time as possible to prepare.

“Summertime heavy showers and thunderstorm situations such as this are a focus for us currently since impacts can vary significantly over small distances and times.”


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