Modeling the hydrodynamics of a tidal inlet during bay-side storms
By Liliana Velasquez-Montoya, Anna Wargula, Tori Tomiczek, Elizabeth J. Sciaudone, Elizabeth Smyre
Bay-side storms, defined here as storms with tracks on the landward side of barrier islands, may disturb the hydrodynamics of inner bays to a larger extent than on the ocean side. These storms are common in large-scale O(>100,000 m) estuarine systems and have the potential to modify the circulation in bays and within tidal inlets. Here, we provide an overview of the hydrodynamic response of a tidal inlet under forcings caused by bay-side storms and explore the role of waves in modulating the release of storm surge from the back-barrier regions into the ocean. A two-dimensional horizontal numerical model including wave-current interactions is calibrated and validated against field observations of water levels and depth-averaged velocities at Oregon Inlet, NC. The model is then used to investigate the effect of synthetic bay-side storms with varying wave conditions and water levels based on those generated by Hurricane Irene (2011), which is the strongest bay-side storm to hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the last two decades. Effect of timing of the peak storm surge during the ebb and flood phases of the tide is also explored.
Results from synthetic storms indicate that, during bay-side storms, the water level gradient along the inlet favors ebbing flows regardless of the timing of the storms relative to tidal phase. These results suggest that waves might be responsible for any influx of volume to the bay during high bay-side surge events. Wave blocking effects were found to be stronger along the ebb shoal and only reached the flood delta when bay water levels were nearly the same as the ocean water levels. Reduction of currents by waves in the inlet have the potential to extend the duration of the inundation period in the back barrier region. Bay-side storms also caused flux enhancement over inlet shoals and channels in the flood delta, which could have implications for circulation patterns as well as the morphodynamics of the system.