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.