Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



VIMS 75th Anniversary Research Symposium


Tidewater Virginia


Storm surge-induced coastal inundation poses numerous personal, commercial, industrial, and sociopolitical challenges for society. Flooding can be caused by the combination of storm surge and river-induced inland flooding in many locations throughout the coastal plain. The cross-disciplinary nature of the hydrodynamics involved (hydraulics, oceanography, and hydrology), coupled with the complexity of the atmospheric forcing, makes a numerical model the best approach for a comprehensive study of the dynamics of coastal inundation.

This study builds upon the lessons learned from forecast modeling experiences during 2011 Hurricane Irene in Tidewater Virginia, to ascertain the most effective way to approach predicting street-level inundation. During the storm event, a large-scale ocean model (SCHISM) was provided atmospheric forcing from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Forecast System, updated every 6 hours to simulate 9 separate 30-hour simulations, which were provided to emergency managers and the National Weather Service in Wakefield, VA. Forecast water level predictions were evaluated at 5 stations near the Hampton Roads region in the Lower Chesapeake Bay to yield an aggregate RMSE=19.9 cm.

To accurately predict street-level inundation, water elevations at key points near the mouths of vulnerable tributaries can be used to drive a separate street-level high-resolution sub-grid model (UnTRIM) to simulate localized flooding events on the scale of 5-meter resolution. To this end, high-resolution Digital Elevation Models including building and roadway infrastructure were developed from Lidar-derived topography for the Hampton Roads Region of Virginia, and used to accurately predict flooding in low-lying areas of the Cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake along the Elizabeth and Lafayette Rivers. Additionally, grids were prepared for the City of Virginia Beach along the Lynnhaven River, and along Hampton, York, and Poquoson along the Back River. Tropical storm surge flood heights were validated via temporal comparison with water level observations from NOAA, the USGS, and NASA; aggregated to an average RMSE=0.18 cm. Spatial extent of flooding was evaluated using USGS data retrieved from high water marks and from rapid deployment overland water level gauges during Hurricane Irene to reveal favorable agreement with the model’s inundation predictions.



forecast modeling, hurricanes, Hurricane Irene, Tidewater, Virginia