Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 1098–1116 | Cite as

Hydrodynamic Response of Northeastern Gulf of Mexico to Hurricanes

  • Qin ChenEmail author
  • Lixia Wang
  • Robert Tawes


The northeastern Gulf of Mexico in the USA is extremely susceptible to the impacts of tropical cyclones because of its unique geometric and topographic features. Focusing on Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Katrina (2005), this paper has addressed four scientific questions on this area’s response to hurricanes: (1) How does the shallow, abandoned Mississippi delta contribute to the storm surge? (2) What was the controlling factor that caused the record-high storm surge of Hurricane Katrina? (3) Why are the responses of an estuary to Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina so different from the corresponding surges on the open coast? (4) How would the storm surge differ if Hurricane Katrina had taken a different course? Guided by field observations of winds, waves, water levels, and currents, two state-of-the-art numerical models for storm surges and wind waves have been coupled to hindcast the relevant hydrodynamic conditions, including storm surges, surface waves, and depth-averaged currents. Fairly good agreement between the modeled and measured surge hydrographs was found. The quantitative numerical simulations and simple qualitative analysis have revealed that the record-high storm surge of Hurricane Katrina was caused by the interaction of the surge with the extremely shallow, ancient deltaic lobe of Mississippi River. A hypothetical scenario formed by shifting the path of Hurricane Katrina to the observed path of Hurricane Frederic (1979) resulted in a much smaller surge than that observed in coastal Mississippi and Louisiana. However, this scenario did still result in a high surge near the head of Mobile Bay. One of the important lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina is that the Saffir–Simpson scale should be systematically revised to reflect the topographic and geometric features of a complex, heterogeneous coast, including the possible surge amplification in an estuary or a submerged river delta.


Mississippi River delta Estuarine dynamics Storm surge Wind waves Wave–surge interaction Topographic effect Hurricane Katrina Hurricane Ivan 



The study has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation (grant no. 0652859), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (401815J017). Permission to use the velocity data collected by Dr. K. Park as well as the wind and water level data collected by several federal agencies are greatly appreciated. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Oceanography and Coastal SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceDaphne Field OfficeDaphneUSA

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