RENCI assists state in floodplain remapping

CHAPEL HILL, NC, August 8, 2007 – Residents living in flood-prone coastal areas of North Carolina can rest a little easier knowing that state emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will soon have new state-of-the-art storm surge models to help them determine the best flood response to storms .

The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), at the request of the state of North Carolina Floodplain Mapping Program with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) , is modernizing the floodplain maps by computing a series of worst-case scenario flood models for coastal North Carolina using Ocracoke, RENCI’s IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer. Over 500,000 Ocracoke computing hours will be needed to complete the research. Computing of the models began in July and should be completed in November.

“RENCI is currently testing the new high-resolution floodplain models with over 1,000 theoretical storms, trying to capture information about their intensity, speed and direction,” said Ken Galluppi, senior researcher and meteorologist who heads RENCI’s disaster research efforts. “In collaboration with experts from the private sector, the Army Corp of Engineers, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and the state Floodplain Mapping Program, our team will be able to determine the probability of a storm hitting North Carolina and how much storm surge there could be along the coast.”

A modeling project of this magnitude could have been very costly for the state if private companies were contracted, according to Galluppi, but RENCI was able to incorporate the work into its larger disaster research efforts, which include developing high resolution atmospheric, hydrological and storm surge models.

The new floodplain models will replace outdated, lower resolution models that do not account for extensive coastal elevation and land use datasets developed over the last seven years.  Better representation of the physical world will also account for the rapid growth over the last 15 years of housing, commercial and tourist developments. The new models will provide federal and state emergency response agencies with a more accurate, reliable and available source of floodplain information. For homeowners, the new models will reveal much information about their year-to-year flood risks, including the likelihood of experiencing a 100-year, or base, flood in any given year. The 100-year flood is a regulatory standard used by federal agencies and most states to administer floodplain management programs. The 100-year flood is also used by the National Flood Insurance Program as the basis for insurance requirements nationwide.

“It is our hope that every county and municipality in North Carolina will adopt the maps resulting from this modeling into their ordinance,” said John Dorman, chief of the Floodplain Mapping Program for the state of North Carolina. “The new floodplain models will provide more meaningful and accurate information, including what a homeowner’s risk is from year to year. It is a great value to the state of North Caroling to utilize RENCI and its resources. RENCI technology will help us educate the public about their flood risks and ensure that North Carolina is safer and better prepared for the next storm surge.”

The floodplain models will be put to use in computing theoretical storms in October. Eventually the resulting maps will aid in developing emergency response plans and in determining where storm surges will take place and who will be at risk. In addition to FEMA workers and state emergency managers, the maps will be used by surveyors, insurance companies, realtors, mortgage companies and municipal and county planning offices. RENCI will also provide the same models to the National Weather Service to help forecast storms and floods in North Carolina.

The public can learn more about the floodplain mapping program at