Last week, a friend sent me some links to NOAA’s coastal flood exposure mapper and several related sites. The NOAA tools have inland applications, too. Full functionality extends to the northern part of Harris County. The NOAA site combines so many different tools in the flood exposure mapper (and related sites), that they could become the “go to” sites to determine flood risk for many in the Houston region.
Their main value: the ability to overlay many different kinds of information on one map to precisely render the geospatial relationships, and easily share what you see.
The flood-exposure mapper site:
- Incorporates FEMA’s flood risk zones
- Identifies many more levels and types of risk, and their extent (see below)
- Lets you change base layers, so you can view risk zones over maps or satellite images
- Lets you toggle layers on and off, and vary their opacity, to help explore risks in your area
- Allows you to share the map on your screen by simply copying the web address (as I did in the embedded links below).
17 Different Layers Available
You can render seventeen different types of information and overlay them in different layers.
- Coastal Flood Hazard Composite
- High Tide Flooding
- FEMA Flood Zones
- Storm Surge
- Sea Level Rise
- Population Density
- Critical Facilities
- Development Patterns
- Natural Areas and Open Space
- Potential Pollution Sources
- Natural Protection
- Wetland Potential
Flood Zones vs. Critical Infrastructure
Say you wanted to see where critical infrastructure facilities, such as schools, hospitals, and police and fire stations, are in your neighborhood relative to mapped flood zones. Turn on the FEMA layers. Turn on Critical Infrastructure. Vary the opacity to suit your taste. And voila. You can see where everything is. Location could affect first responder response time in a flood, your ability to get to a hospital, or your ability to get kids at school. Here’s what that search looks like for the Lake Houston Area. Also see it below.
Flood Zones Vs. Population Density
Want to map population density against flood zones? Here’s what that search looks like in case you’re ever in charge of an evacuation.
Development Density and Time Frame
Curious about when certain areas were developed, and the intensity of that development. Check out this map.
Want to see how much green space developers left in your community? Here you go.
289 Possible Searches
Only two layers at a time can be active. But with 17 different layers, you have 289 possible searches for any given area.
Note: some, but not all layers contain information for Montgomery County, Liberty County and other counties that have no coastal exposure. You just have to experiment.
Helpful Background Information
Puzzled about what some of the terms mean and how they relate to flooding?
Click on the info button for “Employees” and you will see this explanation. “This map shows the range in the number of employees for U.S. Census block groups (or geographies) that work in or near coastal flood-prone areas. Some of the most devastating disaster impacts to a community include the loss of income due to business interruption and the loss of jobs as a result of business closures. It is also important to know where people are located should a hazard event occur during work hours.”
Wondering what “natural protection” has to do with flooding. Click the info button. The following explanation pops up. “Natural areas and open space adjacent to development can buffer and protect against flooding. Wetlands hold floodwaters, reduce wave heights, capture sediments, and reduce erosion. Beaches and dunes absorb wave energy, and other natural areas such as forests and grasslands provide porous surfaces that can absorb, store, and slow water. Protecting these natural areas will ensure that communities continue to receive these benefits; however, with sea level rise, these habitats will need to move landward, so in addition, communities will want to assess and protect surrounding land to help facilitate this process.”
These are very powerful, well-laid out tools within an easy-to-use, intuitive interface. It’s actually fun to explore.
Speaking of sea level rise, without taking a political stance on global warming, NOAA provides an interesting inundation map/viewer. It lets you vary the amount of sea-level rise by 1 to 10 feet and shows how much coastline will be lost for any given amount of rise. You’ll be pleased to know that Lake Houston is not in danger, even with 10 feet of rise.
The sea-level-rise viewer also contains a high-tide flooding map, a vulnerability map, a marsh migration map and more.
Other Helpful Tools
Excellent Tutorials Available
Most of these sites are geared toward professionals, such as flood plain managers, developers, planners, government employees, and real estate people. However, that should not deter residents and home buyers. Each of these related sites offers excellent tutorials.
I would also say that during COVID-school shutdowns, science teachers and parents of teenagers have an excellent learning opportunity with these tools. There’s enough here to keep bored students interested for days. It can be something you explore together as a family.
More Information About Nature Based Solutions
For flood engineers, planners, developers, regulators and serious flood geeks, NOAA also offers the following:
A nature-based solutions training module: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/training/green.html
A nature-based solutions “effectiveness” database: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/training/gi-database.html
Other training resources: https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/training/
Explore. Enjoy. Learn.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/20/2020
965 Days After Hurricane Harvey