Identifying the Earliest Signs of Storm Impacts to Improve Hurricane Flooding Forecasts

One of the most unpredictable and deadly parts of a coastal storm is the storm surge, which can cause devastating flooding of coastal regions, and can result in loss of property and life. Storm surge is a result of winds pushing water from the nearshore ocean to rise above regular tide levels. Storm surge can have a short duration; elevated water levels are limited to when the storm winds are strongest at the coast, typically for a few hours as the storm makes landfall. This short duration is a challenge for predictions of when storm surge will start, how long it will persist, and which regions will be flooded.

To predict storm surge and its associated flooding in coastal areas, numerical models must have a detailed representation of the impacted region, and thus be accurate, without having too much detail, which can limit efficiency. This research examines the use of a multi-resolution approach to improve both efficiency and accuracy. The key idea is that, as a storm travels across the ocean, it will affect different regions at different times. Early on, as the storm moves in open water and far from people, efficiency is more important in the model predictions. But as the storm moves toward the coast, it becomes necessary to have a higher accuracy near coastal communities and infrastructure. This research examines the use of multi-resolution simulations in which, as a storm travels along its track, the model ‘switches’ from lower resolution in open water to higher resolution as the storm moves closer to land. The main research question is to determine when is it most beneficial to switch resolutions by determining when storm effects are first seen at the coast.

This research will explore the arrival of storm effects for Florence, which made landfall along the North Carolina coast during September 2018. It is an ideal storm for this research as its track was shore-normal, and thus its coastal effects increased as it approached landfall. This will allow for investigating the most optimal switch by focusing on a single switch between a lower-resolution mesh to a higher-resolution mesh. The switches will be initiated by several triggers, including wind speeds and water levels at the coast and inland locations, and with several lead times, including near and several days before landfall. Model performance will be quantified via comparisons to observations of storm effects in the region, as well as to a single, high-resolution simulation for the full storm. It will be shown that switching from a coarse resolution mesh to a fine resolution mesh will lead to an increase in efficiency gains across all switching simulations with the most optimal switch time resulting in the most accurate predictions of water levels as compared to our full high-resolution simulation.

The results of this research will provide valuable contributions to forecasters working tirelessly during hurricane season to produce accurate and efficient predictions of coastal flooding impacts. With this information, real-time forecasts can be delivered sooner to emergency managers for informing evacuation zones, thus saving lives.

AC Poisson (2021). “Identifying the Earliest Signs of Storm Impacts to Improve Hurricane Flooding Forecasts,” North Carolina State University.

Subgrid Surface Connectivity for Storm Surge Modeling

Subgrid modeling to account for unresolved topography within the context of shallow water equations relies on the use of coarse grids for computational efficiency. However, excessively coarse grids can lead to artificial cross flows between hydrologically disconnected areas separated by physical barriers smaller than the grid size. An approach based on introducing cell and edge clones, consisting of connected groups of pixels in each cell, is able to systematically remove such artificial cross flows. Such an approach considers that the subgrid barriers permanently divide flow among clones and effectively restrict flow to a predetermined path. In this work, a simple algorithm, along with the use of an overtopping formula, is proposed to extend the clone approach to a scenario in which clones are allowed to be further split and merged as needed, depending on the surface elevation during a given runtime. The algorithm is intended for accommodating the possibility of the subgrid barriers being inundated and no-longer dividing the flow during an extreme event. The performance of the proposed algorithm is demonstrated through a series of idealized and more realistic test cases, showing considerable improvements over existing methodologies.

A Begmohammadi, D Wirasaet, Z Silver, D Bolster, AB Kennedy, JC Dietrich (2021). “Subgrid surface connectivity for storm surge modeling.” Advances in Water Resources, 153, 103939, DOI: 10.1016/j.advwatres.2021.103939.

Multi-Hazard Hurricane Vulnerability Model to Enable Resilience-Informed Decision

Hurricanes or typhoons are multi-hazard events that usually result in strong winds, storm surge, waves, and debris flow. A community-level multi-hazard hurricane risk analysis approach is proposed herein to account for the combined impacts of hazards driven by hurricanes including surge, wave, and wind. A tightly coupled ADCIRC and SWAN model is used to account for the surge and wave hazard. Community-level exposure analysis is conducted using a portfolio of building archetypes associated with each hazard. A building-level hurricane vulnerability model is developed using fragility functions to account for content, building envelope, and structural damage. These fragility functions calculate the exceedance probability of predefined damage states associated with each hazard. Then, a building damage state is calculated based on the maximum probability of being in each damage state corresponding to each hazard. The proposed hurricane risk model is then applied to Waveland, Mississippi, a community that was severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The main contribution of this research is modeling the community-level hurricane vulnerability in terms of damage to the building envelope and interior contents driven by surge, wave, and wind using fragility functions to provide a comprehensive model for resilience-informed decision-making.

OM Nofal, JW van de Lindt, G Yan, S Hamideh, JC Dietrich (2021). “Multi-Hazard Hurricane Vulnerability Model to Enable Resilience-Informed Decision.” Proceedings of International Structural Engineering and Construction, S El-Baradei, A Abodonya, A Singh, S Yazdani (eds.), 8(1), DOI: 10.14455/ISEC.2021.8(1).RAD-01.

Dynamic Load Balancing for Predictions of Storm Surge and Coastal Flooding

As coastal circulation models have evolved to predict storm-induced flooding, they must include progressively more overland regions that are normally dry, to where now it is possible for more than half of the domain to be needed in none or only some of the computations. While this evolution has improved real-time forecasting and long-term mitigation of coastal flooding, it poses a problem for parallelization in an HPC environment, especially for static paradigms in which the workload is balanced only at the start of the simulation. In this study, a dynamic rebalancing of computational work is developed for a finite-element-based, shallow-water, ocean circulation model of extensive overland flooding. The implementation has a low overhead cost, and we demonstrate a realistic hurricane-forced coastal flooding simulation can achieve peak speed-ups near 45% over the static case, thus operating now at 80−90% efficiency.

KJ Roberts, JC Dietrich, D Wirasaet, WJ Pringle, JJ Westerink (2021). “Dynamic load balancing for predictions of storm surge and coastal flooding.” Environmental Modelling & Software, 140, 105045, DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2021.105045.

Downscaling of Real-Time Coastal Flooding Predictions for Decision Support

During coastal storms, forecasters and researchers use numerical models to predict the magnitude and extent of coastal flooding. These models must represent the large regions that may be affected by a storm, and thus, they can be computationally costly and may not use the highest geospatial resolution. However, predicted flood extents can be downscaled (by increasing resolution) as a post-processing step. Existing downscaling methods use either a static extrapolation of the flooding as a flat surface, or rely on subsequent simulations with nested, full-physics models at higher resolution. This research explores a middle way, in which the downscaling includes simplified physics to improve accuracy. Using results from a state-of-the-art model, we downscale its flood predictions with three methods: (1) static, in which the water surface elevations are extrapolated horizontally until they intersect the ground surface; (2) slopes, in which the gradient of the water surface is used; and (3) head loss, which accounts for energy losses due to land cover characteristics. The downscaling methods are then evaluated for forecasts and hindcasts of Hurricane Florence (2018), which caused widespread flooding in North Carolina. The static and slopes methods tend to over-estimate the flood extents. However, the head loss method generates a downscaled flooding extent that is a close match to the predictions from a higher-resolution, full-physics model. These results are encouraging for the use of these downscaling methods to support decision-making during coastal storms.

CA Rucker, N Tull, JC Dietrich, TE Langan, H Mitasova, BO Blanton, JG Fleming, RA Luettich Jr (2021). “Downscaling of Real-Time Coastal Flooding Predictions for Decision Support.” Natural Hazards, 107, 1341-1369, DOI: 10.1007/s11069-021-04634-8.

Multihazard Hurricane Fragility Model for Wood Structure Homes Considering Hazard Parameters and Building Attribute Interaction

Predicting building damage as a function of hurricane hazards, building attributes, and the interaction between hazard and building attributes is a key to understanding how significant interaction reflects variation hazard intensity effect on damage based on building attribute levels. This paper develops multihazard hurricane fragility models for wood structure homes considering interaction between hazard and building attributes. Fragility models are developed for ordered categorical damage states (DS) and binary collapse / no collapse. Exterior physical damage and building attributes from rapid assessment in coastal Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina (2005), high-resolution numerical hindcast hazard intensities from the Simulating WAves Nearshore and ADvanced CIRCulation (SWAN+ADCIRC) models, and base flood elevation values are used as model input. Leave-one-out cross-validation (LOOCV) is used to evaluate model prediction accuracy. Eleven and forty-nine combinations of global damage response variables and main explanatory variables, respectively, were investigated and evaluated. Of these models, one DS and one collapse model met the rejection criteria. These models were refitted considering interaction terms. Maximum 3-s gust wind speed and maximum significant wave height were found to be factors that significantly affect damage. The interaction between maximum significant wave height and number of stories was the significant interaction term for the DS and collapse models. For every 0.3 m (0.98 ft) increase in maximum significant wave height, the estimated odds of being in a higher rather than in a lower damage state for DS model were found to be 1.95 times greater for one- rather than for two-story buildings. For every 0.3 m (0.98 ft) increase in maximum significant wave height, the estimated odds of collapse were found to be 2.23 times greater for one- rather than for two-story buildings. Model prediction accuracy was 84% and 91% for DS and collapse models, respectively. This paper does not consider the full hazard intensity experienced in Hurricane Katrina; rather, it focuses on single-family homes in a defined study area subjected to wind, wave, and storm surge hazards. Thus, the findings of this paper are not applicable for events with hazards that exceed those experienced in the study area, from which the models were derived.

CC Massarra, CJ Friedland, BD Marx, JC Dietrich (2020). “Multihazard Hurricane Fragility Model for Wood Structure Homes Considering Hazard Parameters and Building Attributes Interaction.” Frontiers in Built Environment, 6, 147, DOI: 10.3389/fbuil.2020.00147.

Using a Multi-Resolution Approach to Improve the Accuracy and Efficiency of Flooding Predictions

This research describes a method to improve the accuracy and efficiency of coastal flooding predictions. First, an existing model is used to explore the effect of storm forward speed and timing on tides and storm surge during Hurricane Matthew (2016). It is hypothesized that the spatial variability of Matthew’s effects on total water levels is due to the surge interacting nonlinearly with tides. If the storm occurred a few hours earlier or later, then the largest surges would have been shifted to other regions of the U.S. southeast coast. A change in forward speed of the storm also should alter its associated flooding due to differences in the duration over which the storm impacts the coastal waters. If the storm had moved faster, then the peak water levels would have increased along the coast, but the overall volume of inundation would have decreased. Then this research explores ways to increase the model’s accuracy and efficiency. To better represent Matthew’s effects, a mesh with detailed coverage of the coastal regions from Florida to North Carolina was developed by combining regional meshes originally developed for floodplain mapping. Compared to predictions using the earlier model, the new mesh allows for simulations of inundation that better match to observations especially inland.

Then, to best utilize this new mesh, a multi-resolution approach is implemented to use meshes of varying resolution when and where it is required. It is hypothesized that by `switching’ from coarse- to fine-resolution meshes, with the resolution in the fine mesh concentrated only at specific coastal regions influenced by the storm at that point in time, both accuracy and computational gains can be achieved. As the storm approaches the coastline and the landfall location becomes more certain, the simulation will switch to a fine-resolution mesh that describes the coastal features in that region. Application of the approach during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence revealed the predictions to improve in both accuracy and efficiency, as compared to that from single simulations on coarse- and fine-resolution meshes, respectively.

Finally, the efficiency of the approach is further improved in the case of Hurricane Matthew, by using multiple smaller fine-resolution meshes instead of a single high-resolution mesh for the entire U.S. southeast coast. Simulations are performed utilizing predicted values of water levels, wind speeds, and wave heights, as triggers to switch from one mesh to another. Results indicate how to achieve an optimum balance between accuracy and efficiency, by using the above-mentioned triggers, and through a careful selection of the combination meshes to be used in the approach. This research has the potential to improve the storm surge forecasting process. These gains in efficiency are directly a savings in wall-clock time, which can translate into more time to invest in better models and/or more time for the stakeholders to consider the forecast guidance.

A Thomas (2020). “Using a Multi-Resolution Approach to Improve the Accuracy and Eficiency of Flooding Predictions,” North Carolina State University.

Storm-Driven Erosion and Inundation of Barrier Islands from Dune- to Region-Scales

Barrier islands are susceptible to erosion, overwash, and breaching during intense storms. However, these processes are not represented typically in large-domain models for storm surge and coastal inundation. In this study, we explore the requirements for bridging the gap between dune-scale morphodynamic and region-scale flooding models. A high-resolution XBeach model is developed to represent the morphodynamics during Hurricane Isabel (2003) in the North Carolina (NC) Outer Banks. The model domain is extended to more than 30 km of Hatteras Island and is thus larger than in previous studies. The predicted dune erosion is in good agreement with post-storm observed topography, and an ‘‘excellent’’ Skill Score of 0.59 is obtained on this large domain. Sensitivity studies show the morphodynamic model accuracy is decreased as the mesh spacing is coarsened in the cross-shore direction, but the results are less sensitive to the alongshore resolution. A new metric to assess model skill, Water Overpassing Area (WOA), is introduced to account for the available flow pathway over the dune crest. Together, these findings allow for upscaled parameterizations of erosion in larger-domain models. The updated topography, obtained from XBeach prediction, is applied in a region-scale flooding model, thus allowing for enhanced flooding predictions in communities along the Outer Banks. It is found that, even using a fixed topography in region-scale model, the flooding predictions are improved significantly when post-storm topography from XBeach is implemented. These findings can be generalized to similar barrier island systems, which are common along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

A Gharagozlou, JC Dietrich, A Karanci, RA Luettich, MF Overton (2020). “Storm-driven erosion and inundation of barrier islands from dune- to region-scales.” Coastal Engineering, 158, 103674, DOI: 10.1016/j.coastaleng.2020.103674