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Estimation of Return Levels for Extreme Skew Surge Coastal Flooding Events in the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays for 1980 -2019
  • John Callahan,
  • Daniel Leathers
John Callahan
Delaware Geological Survey

Corresponding Author:john.callahan@udel.edu

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Daniel Leathers
Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, Center for Environmental Monitoring & Analysis, University of Delaware
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Extreme storm surges can overwhelm many coastal flooding protection measures in place and cause severe damages to private communities, public infrastructure, and natural ecosystems. In the US Mid-Atlantic, a highly developed and commercially active region, coastal flooding is one of the most significant natural hazards and a year-round threat from both tropical and extra-tropical cyclones. Mean sea levels and high-tide flood frequency has increased significantly in recent years, and major storms are projected to increase into the foreseeable future. We estimate extreme surges using hourly water level data and harmonic analysis for 1980-2019 at 12 NOAA tide gauges in and around the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. Return levels (RLs) are computed for 1.1, 3, 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100-year return periods using stationary extreme value analysis on detrended skew surges. Two traditional approaches are investigated, Block Maxima fit to General Extreme Value distribution and Points-Over-Threshold fit to Generalized Pareto distribution, although with two important enhancements. First, the GEV r-largest order statistics distribution is used; a modified version of the GEV distribution that allows for multiple maximum values per year. Second, a systematic procedure is used to select the optimum value for r (for the BM/GEVr approach) and the threshold (for the POT/GP approach) at each tide gauge separately. RLs have similar magnitudes and spatial patterns from both methods, with BM/GEVr resulting in generally larger 100-yr and smaller 1.1-yr RLs. Maximum values are found at the Lewes (Delaware Bay) and Sewells Point (Chesapeake Bay) tide gauges, both located in the southwest region of their respective bays. Minimum values are found toward the central bay regions. In the Delaware Bay, the POT/GP approach is consistent and results in narrower uncertainty bands whereas the results are mixed for the Chesapeake. Results from this study aim to increase reliability of projections of extreme water levels due to extreme storms and ultimately help in long-term planning of mitigation and implementation of adaptation measures.