The Storm Surge and Sub-Grid Inundation Modeling in New York City during Hurricane Sandy

Harry V. Wang, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Jon Derek Loftis, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Zhuo Liu, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
David Forrest, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Joseph Zhang, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Hurricane Sandy inflicted heavy damage in New York City and the New Jersey coast as the second costliest storm in history. A large-scale, unstructured grid storm tide model, Semi-implicit Eulerian Lagrangian Finite Element (SELFE), was used to hindcast water level variation during Hurricane Sandy in the mid-Atlantic portion of the U.S. East Coast. The model was forced by eight tidal constituents at the model’s open boundary, 1500 km away from the coast, and the wind and pressure fields from atmospheric model Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS) provided by Weatherflow Inc. The comparisons of the modeled storm tide with the NOAA gauge stations from Montauk, NY, Long Island Sound, encompassing New York Harbor, Atlantic City, NJ, to Duck, NC, were in good agreement, with an overall root mean square error and relative error in the order of 15–20 cm and 5%–7%, respectively. Furthermore, using large-scale model outputs as the boundary conditions, a separate sub-grid model that incorporates LIDAR data for the major portion of the New York City was also set up to investigate the detailed inundation process. The model results compared favorably with USGS’ Hurricane Sandy Mapper database in terms of its timing, local inundation area, and the depth of the flooding water. The street-level inundation with water bypassing the city building was created and the maximum extent of horizontal inundation was calculated, which was within 30 m of the data-derived estimate by USGS.