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.