Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Peter A. Howd, Ph.D.


storm impact scale, overwash, cape hatteras, wave runup, swan, lidar, deep water wave models, hurricanes, dunes, coastal vulnerability


Hurricane hazards result from the combined processes of wind, waves, storm surge, and overwash (Lennon et al., 1996). Predicting the severity of these hazards requires immense effort to quantify the processes and then predict how different coastal regions respond to them. A somewhat simpler, but no less daunting task is to begin to predict the hazards due to potential erosion of barrier islands. A four-part scale has been developed by Sallenger (2000) to provide a framework for understanding how barrier islands might respond during extreme storm events. These four regimes describe how beach and dune elevations interact with surge and wave runup. This study will produce estimates of potential hazards through combining lidar surveys of dune elevation with modeled elevations of storm water levels.

Direct measurements of maximum wave heights during hurricanes are rare. We evaluated three simple equations proposed by Kjerfve (1986), Young (1988), and Hsu (1998) to forecast the maximum wave height (Hmax) generated by three 1999 hurricanes. Model results were compared to wave data recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wave rider buoys. The radius of maximum winds, wind speed, forward velocity, distance from buoy to the storm's eye-wall (r), and buoy's position relative to the quadrant of the storm (Q) were found to have significant and direct roles in evaluating recorded hurricane induced wave heights (H) and thus, were individually examined for each comparison. The implications of the r and Q on H were assessed when determining the overall effectiveness of the modelers' equations.

Linear regression analyses tested the accuracy of each modeled prediction of the Hmax, comparing it to the observed wave heights. Three statistical criteria were used to quantify model performance. Hsu's model was the most reliable and useful forecasting technique.

Despite the predictive skill of Hsu's model, direct observations of the maximum wave conditions, when available and appropriate, are preferred as inputs for SWAN, a 3rd generation shoaling wave model. Outputs from SWAN are used to calculate the empirical relationships for wave runup. For our test case, pre and post-storm topographies were surveyed as part of a joint USGS-NASA program using lidar technology. These data sets were used to calculate changes in the elevation and location of the dune crest (Dhigh) and dune base (Dlow) for the North Carolina Outer Banks. We hindcast potential coastal hazards (erosional hot spots) using the pre-storm morphology and modeled wave runup and compare those estimates to the measured results from the post-storm survey. Links among the existing topography and spatial variations in wave runup were found to be 95% correlated for the north-south and east-west facing barrier islands. Application of Sallenger's (2000) four-part Storm Impact Scale to the pre-storm Dhigh elevation survey and wave runup extremes (Rhigh and Rlow) were found to accurately predict zones of overwash and showed potential to forecast the inundation regime.