Flash Flood!

Flash Flood

Flash Flood! is a virtual reality simulation that places people within a river valley. Although the scene starts during a beautiful, summer’s afternoon, not a cloud in the sky or a care in the world, the weather begins to turn and a heavy thunderstorm forms over the valley. The storm causes a flash flood wave to bulldoze down the valley, tearing up the river bed and surrounding banks, changing the river for years to come.

The scene was built using data collected from a real river and flood based on a flood that happened in 2007. You find out more about the science behind Flash Flood! further down this page.


The Flash Flood! valley as viewed in the second virtual reality version.


Flash Flood! has been our flagship activity for many years and has seen several iterations. There are several ways you can enjoy it from home, the easiest being the 360 videos available on YouTube. These can be viewed on a Desktop, where you can navigate the direction of view using your mouse, but are best viewed on a Tablet or Phone (via the YouTube app NOT a browser) where you can change the direction of view by moving your device.

There are two versions available. One with narration to guide you through –

And one without narration in case you wish to use this in education and would like to guide the students yourself –

Obviously, the best way to experience Flash Flood! is to play it. You can do this too by downloading the Desktop version. This was designed to work on a reasonably low spec of PC and can be operated with either an XBOX controller or just a keyboard and mouse.


Screenshot from the lower specification version of Flash Flood! available through SourceForge.

Download the files from SourceForge here. If you have an XBOX controller choose FlashFloodDesktopInstall.exe and FlashFloodDesktopNoRadialsInstall.exe if you do not. Controls can be found in the Flash Flood Quick Start and Controls PDF document.

Whichever method you choose, the Living Manual (also in SourceForge) provides some background information, guidance for using it, and advice for using it in teaching. This document has not been updated for a while and we will be reviewing it in the next few days. We welcome submission of ideas of how to use these simulations to include in the Living Manual, if you’d like to contribute please contact us at seriousgeogames@hull.ac.uk.


The Flash Flood! application is based on the Thinhope Burn valley, in Northumbria, Northern England, and a flood that occurred there in July 2007. The flood was a rare and devastating flash flood as a result of intense rainfall. It was inspired by and based on the work of our colleague, Dr David Milan, who kindly allowed us to use his data and expertise.

Milan, D.J., 2012. Geomorphic impact and system recovery following an extreme flood in an upland stream: Thinhope Burn, northern England, UK. Geomorphology, 138(1), pp.319-328.

The flood was caused by a small, yet heavy thunderstorm focused over the top of the catchment where the stream channels are at their narrowest and steepest. Large amounts water were funneled down these small channels becoming very powerful, able to erode the river bed and pick up mud, rocks, and plants that fell in its path. It left a trail of destruction that reached much further down the river than the storm did.

Google Earth images captured before (left) and after (right) the July 2007 flood at Thinhope Burn. The narrow, more winding channel was transformed into a wider, straighter one, and the vegetated banks stripped away and covered by a layer of stones and gravel.


Google Earth image showing Thinhope Burn a few months after the flood. Charts show the rainfall intensities as captured by the UK’s NIMROD weather radar for different areas on the day of the flood. The top shows the rainfall at the top of the river, where the storm was focused, which peaked at 42 mm/hr. The bottom shows the rainfall at the location where Flash Flood! is set, about a 45 minute walk away, peaking at just 8 mm/hr.

Before and after the flood shots taken from within the area used for Flash Flood! and about 5 km away from the centre of the thunderstorm (Images by David Milan).

The nature of the event and the changes it made to the river classes it as a threshold event. This means that the changes were so extreme that the way the river behaves was changed. Before the flood it was a stable, narrow channel and had changed very little over nearly a century – very little sediment (sand, mud, and stones) were moved around. After the flood, the river was less stable, it changes course more often and with lots of loose material around, more sediments are mobilised. When these sediments are carried downstream, out of the valley, they can have an impact of the flood risk in those areas. It will take the river many years to slowly recover to its previous behaviour and stabilise once more.

Capturing the Data and Development

As we strive to with all our activities, Flash Flood! features real research and data. The 3D virtual scene was constructed using data collected in the field before and after the flood, so the surface you walk along within the activity is the actual surface of the Thinhope Burn valley. The before the flood scene was surveyed by David Milan using a GPS system in a backpack, collecting locations and heights as he walked a zig-zag across the valley. In 2014, we returned to Thinhope Burn with a Terrestrial Laser Scanner (TLS) and surveyed the river is high detail.

Walking up and down the valley (top) and a 3D point cloud built from scanning the valley with a TLS.

The development of Flash Flood! was undertaken by indie-game developers, BetaJester Ltd, who took our 3D models and converted them into explorable gaming scenes within Unity-3D.

The water levels in the activity are based on modelling of the event performed by Chris Skinner.

To make the scene visually more interesting and to make the most of the immersivity of virtual reality, trees were added to the scene even though there are few at Thinhope Burn. This also helped to blend the edges of the scene.


You can read more about Flash Flood!, the science behind it, and the research that has come out of it in the following publications –

Skinner, C.: Flash Flood!: a SeriousGeoGames activity combining science festivals, video games, and virtual reality with research data for communicating flood risk and geomorphology, Geosci. Commun., 3, 1–17, https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-3-1-2020, 2020.

Flack, D.L., Skinner, C.J., Hawkness-Smith, L., O’Donnell, G., Thompson, R.J., Waller, J.A., Chen, A.S., Moloney, J., Largeron, C., Xia, X. and Blenkinsop, S., 2019. Recommendations for improving integration in national end-to-end flood forecasting systems: An overview of the FFIR (Flooding From Intense Rainfall) programme. Water11(4), p.725.

Skinner, C.: Riding the (flood) wave: the Flash Flood! desktop application. Teaching Geography, 43, 28-31, 2018 [Paywall]

Skinner, C., and Milan, D.: Flash flooding: Visualising the impacts. Geography Review, 31(4), 38-41, 2018


The original Flash Flood! was funded by a Knowledge Transfer grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Flooding from Intense Rainfall (FFIR) programme.

An Outreach grant from the British Society for Geomorphology assisted the development of supporting materials at exhibits.

A prize awarded for Best Public Exhibit (3rd place) at the NERC Science Showcase Into the blue was used to produce the 360 YouTube versions.

A grant from the University of Hull’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) was used to develop Vol.2 of Flash Flood! and virtual reality equipment to exhibit it as part of the Earth Arcade.