Dr. Casey Dietrich, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE), leads the Coastal and Computational Hydraulics Team and develops computational models that predict storm surge and coastal flooding. Using the model ADCIRC, the team makes predictions about how high sea waters will rise, which areas will be flooded and for how long. These predictions are made for the entire coastline, and then his team visualizes the flooding at the scales of individual buildings and coastal infrastructure. During Florence, Dietrich’s team and collaborators acted as liaisons for state emergency managers to aid their decision making.
“The models are just one data point among many, but they’re helpful in understanding hazards and used to make predictions in real time — partly to make decisions about evacuation, where to deploy resources after, safe places to put emergency vehicles and water supplies,” he said.
The state emergency managers are able to use the flooding predictions to get immediate estimates on damages, which helps communities that are figuring out how much recovery will cost.
After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Dietrich and his colleagues improved the models’ ability to forecast encroaching water along shorelines. Post-Florence, Dietrich said the research focus is to speed up the model and allow for more permutations to see what might happen if a storm slows down or shifts direction.