University of Texas at Austin
Model Flooding and Storm Surges | FloDisMod


Photo by Dr. Tamer Oraby

Model Flooding and Storm Surges

When a tropical storm or hurricane approaches a coastline, the strong winds blowing over the ocean’s surface push water towards the shore, resulting in storm surge—a sudden and abnormal rise in sea level.

Storm surge is especially dangerous because it can cause widespread flooding, destruction of infrastructure, significant economic damage, and loss of life. As in any natural hazard scenario, the safety of a community is directly tied to the ability of forecasters to successfully predict the location and timing of storm surge and respond. Accurate modeling is invaluable in the planning processes both far out and near the time of a severe storm event [1].

Our research in particular focuses on the resulting compound flooding associated with this natural hazard. Flooding and standing water can be a problem contributing to the breeding of disease carrying insects such as Kissing Bugs [2] and mosquitos due to the impact it has on their habitat and the increased availability of suitable breeding sites.

To perform our research studies, we actively develop and apply the Advanced Circulation Model (ADCIRC) [3] as it has been extensively used for storm surge and flood forecasting. It has been applied to numerous real-world scenarios, including hurricane impact assessments, emergency response planning, and coastal infrastructure design [1]. Its accuracy and reliability have been established through rigorous comparisons with observational data from previous storms [1], rendering it an indispensable tool for coastal communities and researchers studying coastal dynamics.

ADCIRC is a finite element model that employs mathematical equations to simulate the intricate behavior of water, incorporating factors such as wind, seafloor bathymetry, and coastline features [4]. It is a valuable tool that utilizes powerful high performance computer simulations to model the immense power of the ocean in extreme weather conditions.

Since 2006, ADCIRC has been used for event-based forecasting during hurricane events. PI Dawson and Co-PI Valseth are, and have been, involved in projects developing such forecasts, including the Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment (CERA - tool.

[1] Dawson, C. and Proft, J. (2012). Predicting Storm Surge. In P. Bedient (Ed.), Lessons From Hurricane Ike, (pp 50-65). Texas A&M University Press.

[2] FloDisMod website


[4] Bunya, S., Dietrich, J., Westerink, J., Ebersole, B., Smith, J., Atkinson, J., Jensen, R., Resio, D., Luettich, R., Dawson, C. et al. 2010. A high resolution coupled riverine flow, tide, wind, wind wave and storm surge model for southern Louisiana and Mississippi: part I-model development and validation, Monthly Weather Review 1 38(2): 345-77.