Hurricane Storm Surge Simulations for Tampa Bay

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Wind Stress, Storm Surge, Surge Height, Storm Center, Landfall Location

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Using a high resolution, three-dimensional, primitive equation, finite volume coastal ocean model with flooding and drying capabilities, supported by a merged bathymetric-topographic data set and driven by prototypical hurricane winds and atmospheric pressure fields, we investigated the storm surge responses for the Tampa Bay, Florida, vicinity and their sensitivities to point of landfall, direction and speed of approach, and intensity. All of these factors were found to be important. Flooding potential by wind stress and atmospheric pressure induced surge is significant for a category 2 hurricane and catastrophic for a category 4 hurricane. Tide, river, and wave effects are additive, making the potential for flood-induced damage even greater. Since storm surge sets up as a slope to the sea surface, the highest surge tends to occur over the upper reaches of the bay, Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay in particular. For point of landfall sensitivity, the worst case is when the hurricane center is positioned north of the bay mouth such that the maximum winds associated with the eye wall are at the bay mouth. Northerly (southerly) approaching storms yield larger (smaller) surges since the winds initially set up (set down) water level. As a hybrid between the landfall and direction sensitivity experiments, a storm transiting up the bay axis from southwest to northeast yields the smallest surge, debunking a misconception that this is the worst Tampa Bay flooding case. Hurricanes with slow (fast) translation speeds yield larger (smaller) surges within Tampa Bay due to the time required to redistribute mass.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Estuaries and Coasts, v. 29, issue 6, p. 899-913