Wind and rain compound with tides to cause frequent and unexpected coastal floods

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Thomas Thelen , Katherine A Anarde , Joel Casey Dietrich, Miyuki Hino


With sea-level rise, flooding in coastal communities is now common during the highest high tides. Floods also occur at normal tidal levels when rainfall overcomes stormwater infrastructure that is partially submerged by tides. Data describing this type of compound flooding is scarce and, therefore, it is unclear how often these floods occur and whether there are other non-tidal factors that contribute to flooding. We combine measurements of flooding on roads and within storm drains with a numerical model to examine processes that contribute to flooding in Carolina Beach, NC, USA – a community that chronically floods outside of extreme storms despite flood mitigation infrastructure to combat tidal flooding. Of the 43 non-storm floods we measured during a year-long study period, one-third were unexpected by the community because the forecasted tide was below their monitoring threshold. We introduce a novel model coupling between an ocean-scale hydrodynamic model (ADCIRC) and a community-scale surface water and pipe flow model (3Di) to quantify contributions from multiple flood drivers. We find that setup from sustained (non-storm) winds modulates flood extents and depth: wind setup causes deeper, longer, more extensive flooding during the highest high tides and can cause floods on days when flooding would not have occurred due to tides alone. Rainfall also contributes to unexpected floods; because tides submerge stormwater outfalls on a daily basis, even minor rainstorms lead to flooding as runoff has nowhere to drain. As a particularly low-lying coastal community, Carolina Beach provides a glimpse into future challenges that coastal communities worldwide will face in predicting, preparing for, and adapting to increasingly frequent flooding from compounding tidal and non-tidal drivers atop sea-level rise.



Civil and Environmental Engineering


coastal flooding, Sea-level rise, high-tide flooding, compound flooding, Hydrodynamic Modeling, climate adaptation


Published: 2024-06-12 07:32

Last Updated: 2024-06-12 14:32


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Available upon request