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Using ArcGIS to Model Flood Inundation and Impact Near East Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minnesota

GIS 5578 GIS Programming Matt Taraldsen, Josh Dunsmoor 1. Project Introduction
Flooding is both the most common and the costliest natural disaster in the United States (FEMA). From 2000 2010, a yearly average of $2.6 Billion of flood damage was reported, as well as an average of 71 deaths (National Weather Service). Damage caused by flooding not only includes automobiles and houses, but sometimes entire cities may experience significant damage. Once such area with high susceptibility to flood risk is the Red River of the North Basin. This area experiences nearly annual flood stage readings, and boasts a record crest of nearly 41 feet, experienced in 2009 near Fargo, North Dakota and 54 feet, experienced in 1997 in the Grand Forks area (North Dakota State University). The purpose of this study was to build a model in ArcGIS, which features an ASCII DEM file as an input to produce inundation maps. The inundation maps would then be overlaid on Tiger Census data to gauge potential population impacts.

The motivation for this project comes from mutual interest of natural disaster response and mitigation. Matt has a background in meteorology, while Josh has a strong interest in using GIS in disaster modeling and mitigation. This project will allow not only for modeling of the natural processes of flooding, but also allow an estimation of

inundations at different flood levels. By integrating population data in this study, we can learn the potential impacts to the areas population.

Further justification of the project comes from the large impacts associated with flooding. As stated above, flooding is a major issue in the Red River Valley, and utilizing GIS allows for further analysis of flooding potential. This project also presents an opportunity for professional development of both group members. As a meteorologist, Matt would like to conduct flood studies in a professional environment after graduation, and Josh would like to apply his risk management perspective to manage and mitigate disaster using GIS. This study would facilitate GIS skill development in natural sciences and potential environmental impacts.

2. Background Data
The purpose of this project will be to develop a simple model demonstrating flood inundation based from a DEM file. Several more complicated studies have been conducted and were used for reference in this project. The forecasting and monitoring of floods is a federally mandated task of the National Weather Service (Department of Commerce, 2010). The forecasts, warnings, and advisories issued by the National Weather Service are intended for use to mitigate the threat to life and property posed by events such as floods. For this model, the focus has been given to river flooding which is high flow, overflow, or inundation by [river] water which causes or threatens damage (Department of Commerce, 2010). This is separated from flash flooding, which occurs within six hours of a caustic event and usually arises from events such as

thunderstorms. The National Weather Service further defines the levels of flooding (Table 1). National Weather Service Flood Terminology
Term Monitor/Action Stage Flood Stage Moderate Flood Stage Major Flood Stage Record Flood Stage Definition Bank full condition. NWS will issue flood forecasts, and monitoring of levee and other protection systems mandatory. Minimal or no property damage - but public threat. Some inundations of roads and structures near streams. Some people or property relocated to higher ground. Extensive inundation of structures and roads. Significant evacuations of people to higher elevations. Flooding equals or exceeds previous maximum flood stage for a given location. Not necessarily above other flood stages.
Table 1 - National Weather Service flood terminology (Dept. of Commerce, 2010)

Flood stages are then quantitatively assigned to a given flood area based on the impacts listed above. The stages will be assigned by the local National Weather Service forecast office, and corresponding area River Forecast Center (Dept. of Commerce, 2010).

Flood Stages are occasionally altered as new data is available. Due to the frequent flooding in the Red River valley, new data is available. Lidar data has recently been collected for the Red River Valley (MN Geospatial Intelligence Office, 2012). Table 2 illustrates the current flood stages for the Fargo and Grand Forks area (National Weather Service, 2012). These flood stages were assigned in 2010 (Grand Forks) (FEMA, 2010), and 2012(Moorhead) (FEMA, 2012).

Flood Information for Fargo and Grand Forks (in feet)

Gauge Elevation Fargo Grand Forks
861 779

Action Stage
17 27

Flood Stage
18 28

Moderate Stage
25 40

Major Stage
30 46

Record Crest
41 54

Table 2 - Flood Data for Grand Forks and Fargo (From National Weather Service, 2012)

Both Grand Forks and Moorhead have had major flood events in the past. For a comparison of how the predicted major and record floods compared, record (at the time) crests in 1997 and then again in 2009 will be utilized.

3. Area of Interest

Figure 1 - Clay, Norman, and Polk Counties with population centers. East Grand Forks and Moorhead are highlighted

The study focused on the red river in three counties in Minnesota: Polk, Norman and Clay. Within these counties are the cities of East Grand Forks and Moorhead, both of

which have experienced major flooding in both 1997 and 2009. In 2000, Moorhead had a population of 38,000, with a Fargo-Moorhead metro population of 174,000 residents. East Grand Forks had a population of 7,500, and 60,000 in the wider Grand Forks-East Grand Forks area (US Census). MN DNR 30m DEMs were secured for both the Grand Forks and the Moorhead areas. As these two cities represent the largest population centers along the Red River, they will be the primary focus for this survey.

4. Materials
Data utilized in this project came from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Data Deli ( North Dakota does not widely distribute data, and the data that was located did not correspond with the area of interest. An attempt was made to obtain Lidar data from the Red River Decision Information Network (, however, data usage was limited on the site and lidar data was not easily accessible. The decision was made to download the 30 meter resolution DEM from the Minnesota DNR. Raw ASCII files were downloaded for the East Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minnesota area.

In addition to the flooding inundation, this project also intends to view the potential impacts of flood stages. Once the DEM was secured, 2010 Census population data ( was downloaded. This includes population and population density data. These data were overlaid with the inundation polygons to create and estimate of impacted population.

While a majority of sources and data were found online, they represent the most accurate and official documentation of the US Government. The National Weather Service maintains all of their data online to ensure Emergency Management, storm spotters, other meteorologists, or any other interested party can easily and readily access the data. The data on these websites is considered official climatic/meteorological data from the National Weather Service. Paper copies are only available for purchase from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and currently are not available through the University of Minnesota. Due to the lack of budget for the project, the decision was made to only use publicly accessible online data.

5. Data Preparation
Methodology for this paper was to combine ArcGIS Model Builder with custom scripts from Python to develop a working model. Once the data was collected from the DNR and the Census Bureau, the next step was to create an Area of Interest. Data from the DNR was centered on both Moorhead and East Grand Forks. The Moorhead area was represented by one raster while the Grand Forks area was covered by two separate rasters. The first step was to mosaic these two rasters to create two files to represent the area of interest.

The decision was then made to keep the two rasters separate as they both represented different parts of the river. The Red River slowly decreases in elevation as it

flows north, with the gauge at Fargo located 861 feet and the Grand Forks gauge at 779 feet above sea level. Table 2 illustrates the flood elevations for each stage, in each city. These values were utilized in custom python scripts to select impact areas.

6. Methodology
Once the data and research was complete, the decision was made to use Model Builder to build rasters. By using Model Builder, any DEM for another location could be used for

Figure 2 - Model Builder for Initial Grand Forks Setup

similar study. The Grand Forks mosaic DEM raster was ingested into model builder, and converted from an ASCII file to a point file (Figure 2). This was time intensive, but allowed for a selection of the different elevations from the raster file. A similar approach was taken with the Moorhead area (Figure 3)

Figure 3 - Model Builder for the Initial Moorhead Setup

Two python scripts, one for each city, (Appendix 1 and 2) were developed to take the converted point raster and select all the points from the different flood elevations from Table 1. These selected layers are then converted to an individual raster. These

Figure 4 - Moorhead Model Builder

individual rasters will represent the inundation levels for the different flood stages around Moorhead and Grand Forks.

Figure 5 Grand Forks Model Builder

Figure 4 and Figure 5 illustrate the next step in the model builder. Once the scripts (Appendix 1 and 2) created five separate rasters the next step was to transform them. Model builder was them employed to complete the following: A) Convert the point files into a raster B) Convert the raster into polygons C) Aggregate the polygon layers (100m radius) to create a solid polygon layer D) Intersect the aggregated polygons with the census tracts to form an impacted area

The model was designed to build successively off of each layer. Therefore, most layers featured the previous iteration of the model as input. Table 2 lists each step with input and output parameters. Also included is a remarks column, stating the intended use of each layer. The impacted area will then feature not only the DEM data but also the

census data including housing and population data. This will provide an estimation of the impacts of a flood at different levels.

Grand Forks/Moorhead Model Steps

Model Layer
GF DEM Raster to Point

Input Parameters
N/A GF/ Moorhead DEM ASCII file

Output Parameters
N/A Point Raster GF/Moor Action Points GF/Moor Major Points GF/Moor Record Points GF/Moor Moderate Points GF/Moor Flood Points

raw ASCII DEM file Converts ASCII raster to a point raster

Step 1

Grand Forks Script/Moorhead

Point Raster

Takes the point file and selects attributes based on individual flood elevations. Individual selections are then saved as flood layers. Completed with arcpy script (Appendix 1)

Step 2
GF/Moor Action Raster GF/Moor Major Raster GF/Moor Record Raster GF/Moor Moderate Raster GF/Moor Flood Raster GF/Moor Action Polygon GF/Moor Major Polygon GF/Moor Record Polygon GF/Moor Moderate Polygon GF/Moor Flood Polygon

Point to Raster (x5)

GF/Moor Action Points GF/Moor Major Points GF/Moor Record Points GF/Moor Moderate Points GF/Moor Flood Points

Converts point files into a raster.

Raster to Polygon (x5) 10

GF/Moor Raster GF/Moor GF/Moor Raster GF/Moor Raster GF/Moor

Action Major Raster Record Moderate Flood Raster

Converts raster into polygon layers

Aggregate Polygons (x5)

Intersect (x5)

GF/Moor Action Polygon GF/Moor Major Polygon GF/Moor Record Polygon GF/Moor Moderate Polygon GF/Moor Flood Polygon GF/Moor Action Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Major Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Record Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Moderate Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Flood Polygon Aggregated Grand Forks Census Tracts (GF only) Moorhead Census Tracts (Moorhead only)

GF/Moor Action Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Major Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Record Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Moderate Polygon Aggregated GF/Moor Flood Polygon Aggregated

Combines all Polygon Layers into one large polygon for overlay

GF/Moor Action Impacted Area GF/Moor Flood Impacted Area GF/Moor Moderate Impacted Area GF/Moor Major Impacted Area GF/Moor Record Impacted Area

Intersects the census tract information with the aggregated polygons. Impacted population tallys can then be extracted from the attributes table.

Table 2 - Model input and output parameters and remarks

7. Data Errors
Data collection proved to be the most challenging part of the project. North Dakota in particular did not have data readily available. The Minnesota DNR did have data available, but was in a different format from the available Census data. All files have a projection of Transverse Mercator in the NAD 1983 UTM 15N coordinate system.

The next issues were the large size of the files utilized, and file types. Initially the project was intended to ingest a raster data and select attributes from this file. However, once

the DNR ASCII file was downloaded this was no longer an option. Upon investigation into other flood projects from the University of Texas (Lopez, 2003) it was found a point layer would be sufficient to select attributes from. However, this point layer created a large file that took over 30 minutes to render in model builder. This slowed down the project considerably but gave more representative elevation results.

8. Preliminary Results
Figure 6 illustrates the amount of flooding near East Grand Forks at different levels. Of note was the large spatial extent of the major flood stage polygon. The bottom left of Figure 6 illustrates the amount of the city of East Grand Forks is inundated in a major flood. Nearly the entire city is inundated in a major flood with only minor additional flooding from the record crest. This is validated by the fact that after 1997 flood, all but eight homes were damaged by flood waters in East Grand Forks. When compared to Moorhead, it appears that the northern edge of East Grand Forks is especially susceptible to widespread inundation. While the areas covered by both the major and record floods are significant, the areas are likely exaggerated in the model. The areas north of East Grand Forks have a lower elevation than the gauge within the city limits, and our model cannot account for those immediate changes. Even with the northernly bias, it is clear that major sections of East Grand Forks (over 10,000 people) would be directly impacted by a major or record flood. This is consistent with both the major floods of 1997 and 2009.


Figure 6 - Flood levels near East Grand Forks, MN


East Grand Forks Impacts

Population Impacted % Increase from Previous Area Covered (ha) % Increase from Previous Action Stage 2322 NA 1405 NA Flood Stage 3257 140.27% 4059 288.90% Moderate Flood 3977 122.11% 7137 175.83% Major Flood 10823 272.14% 22505 315.33% Record Flood 10889 100.61% 23932 106.34%

Table 3 - Grand Forks Impact

Unlike Grand Forks, which had an immense flooding impact within the city, Moorhead was relatively unscathed by flooding. Most of the flooding (bottom Figure 6) inundates the areas to the north of the city which is comparatively sparsely populated. There is still some inundation within the city, but compared to Grand Forks there is a comparatively smaller area covered. A quantitative result is displayed in table 4. As in Grand Forks, the Moorhead area also shows a large area of inundation north of the city. Some of this may again be due to the lower elevation of the river as it flows north, but historic flood maps show areas to the north of the city are more susceptible to flooding. The inundated areas north of the city are likely exaggerated, but unlike Grand Forks these areas are sparsely populated. This limited the amount of populations that were impacted in the model. However, as with Grand Forks, a record or major crest has a very large impact. The model estimated that nearly 18,000 people would be impacted by flood waters in a record crest. In a major flood this number is slightly less, but still over 15,000 people are likely to be significantly impacted by flood inundation. Again, this is consistent with the major floods of 1997 and 2009.


Figure 7 - Flood stages in Moorhead, MN


Moorhead Impacts
Action Stage Population Impacted % Increase from Previous Area Covered (ha) % Increase from Previous 3764 Flood Stage 4556 Moderate Flood 4994 Major Flood 15876 Record Flood 17966

NA 939

121.04% 3697

109.61% 8394

317.90% 20821

113.16% 22177






Table 4 - Flooding Impacts in the Moorhead Area

9. Model Test
To ensure the model was applicable to other situations, a test run was conducted. While the flood stages utilized in the paper were the most recent, there was theoretically still some error in the model. By using a 30m resolution DEM, at least some error is generated in the inundation fields. The difference between the use of lidar generated DEM, and larger scale DEM can sometimes be rather significant. (Wang et. al, 2010). Not only can there be error in the measured DEM, but our model also did not capture the dynamics of a flood (Erich et. al, 2002). As a flood progresses, there are often strong dynamics besides the simple inundation of structures. This includes the potential for multiple crests, flood control efforts of the affected municipalities, and environmental sources such as ice in the channel or wave action. Therefore, a hypothetical flood was generated in our model. This flood will be 1 foot above all current levels (Table 5). This tested the potential impact of just a one foot change in flood elevation due to the dynamics of moving water. The same methodology was followed as the original run, but

all levels in the model were increased by one foot.

Figure 8 - Test run comparison to first run output


Test Stages for Fargo and Grand Forks (in feet)

Gauge Elevation Fargo Grand Forks
861 779

Action Stage
18 28

Flood Stage
19 29

Moderate Stage
26 41

Major Stage
31 47

Record Crest
42 55

Table 5 - Fargo and Grand Forks Test Values

Figure 11 - Test script for Moorhead

Figure 10 - - Test script for Grand Forks

Figure 9 Fargo/Grand Forks test model

The same methodology was used for the test run as with the first run of the test (Section 6). The scripts were altered to reflect the new levels, and then run (Figures 10 and 11). A new model was then created, which analyzed all ten flood stages for both


locations at one time. The model followed the same methodology as the first model set up, just with new test layers for outputs.

The test revealed a few interesting trends. First, as expected there were large increases in impacts for both the major and record crest. What was surprising was that there was actually less of an impact if the action and flood stages were raised. This was not expected, and the model was run several times to ensure these results are correct. It is speculated by the group that this error is a byproduct of the intersection of the flood layers with the census tracts. With the new stage, a different set of intersections were created which may have altered which census tracts were impacted. This would alter the population totals for each stage.

Moorhead Test Impacts

Population Impacted Test population impacted % Change Area Covered (ha) Test Area Covered (ha) % Change Action Stage 3764 3874 102.92% 939 1031 109.80% Flood Stage 4556 3721 81.67% 3697 4094 110.74% Moderate Flood 4994 4598 92.07% 8394 9613 114.52% Major Flood 15876 17444 109.88% 20821 21586 103.67% Record Flood 17966 18881 105.09% 22177 23011 103.76%

Table 6 - Moorhead test results

Grand Forks Test Impacts

Population Impacted Test population impacted % Change Population Area Covered (ha) Test Area Covered (ha) 19 Action Stage 2322 2181 93.90% 1405 1328 Flood Stage 3257 2266 69.60% 4059 3664 Moderate Flood 3977 3981 100.10% 7137 8482 Major Flood 10823 10857 100.30% 22505 21716 Record Flood 10889 11127 102.20% 23932 23545

% Change Area






Table 7 Grand Forks test results

With the exception of the errors with some stages having inconsistent impacts the model worked well. The largest changes were seen in the major flood category, where a nearly 10% greater impact was noted by increasing the crest by just one foot. In Grand Forks the changes were comparatively small, but there was a 2% change in the population impacted when the record crest was adjusted upwards by one foot. Significant increases in Moorhead were also noted in are inundated between flood stages. The biggest increase was from flood to moderate flood stage, which increased the inundation area by 14%.

10. Final Conclusions

For both Grand Forks and Moorhead, the results were consistent with what were expected. While there were some inconsistencies with the population impacts between the various flood stages, the model clearly created polygons that increased in spatial coverage as the flooding became more significant. Also of note was the large amount of area inundated and people impacted for both the major and record floods. While this was likely biased to the river naturally decreasing in elevation away from the gauge sites, having over 10,000 people impacted in Grand Forks and over 17,000 in Moorhead was still indicative of a high impact flood event. The use of python and model builder were especially useful for this project. The python script allowed for a relatively rapid collection and generation of the raster layers, which would have taken considerable more time for a human analyst to complete. The model builder, while sometimes cumbersome, allowed for all flood layers to be generated simultaneously, and again saved time. For future research the inclusion of higher resolution lidar data would be desired

as a comparison of the two data sources could then be completed. Also, including information about the flood levies in both Grand Forks and Moorhead would be valuable as a much more accurate inundation map could be produced. Additional analysis of the census data could also be performed to mitigate and plan response for future floods. Using the data to locate elderly or under-privileged populations would allow emergency crews to focus early efforts in their direction. Finally, including more in depth information about soil infiltration, timing of inundation in different weather conditions, and also dynamically mapping the flood inundation are all potential areas of research but were not achievable with the methodology of this particular project.

11. Task Contributions

The proposal for this project was a collaboration of the two of us as we both drew on our interest in natural disaster management. Given Matts meteorological experience, he determined the needed data sets and sources. Once data was collected, it was passed off to Josh who developed the work flow needed to get from the input ASCII file to our output flood stage raster files. With the workflow determined, the model was assembled in model builder by Matt, and the manual scripting needed to develop the flood stage selections was written by Josh. From there, it was a collaborative effort to display the information and report and display the findings.


Appendix 2: Python code for selecting Moorhead data
## Date: 4/22/2012 ## This tool will query the point shape file storing the elevation data. This script will ## query the points, create the selections, and write the output files for creating ## the flood level polygons in Moorhead. There are 5 flood levels, action, flood, moderate ## major, and record. import arcpy import sys arcpy.env.Workspace = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\moorhead_point.shp" inFC = arcpy.env.Workspace moorElev = 861 outAction = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\moor_outaction.shp" outFlood = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\moor_outfld.shp" outModerate = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\moor_outmod.shp" outMajor = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\moor_outmjr.shp" outRecord = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\moor_outrec.shp" arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outAction, '"GRID_CODE" < 879') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outFlood, '"GRID_CODE" < 886') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outModerate, '"GRID_CODE" < 891') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outMajor, '"GRID_CODE" < 902') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outRecord, '"GRID_CODE" < 903')

Appendix 2: Python code for selecting Grand Forks data ## Date: 4/22/2012 ## This tool will query the point shape file storing the elevation data. This script will

## query the points, create the selections, and write the output files for creating ## the flood level polygons for the East Grand Forks, MN area. There are 5 flood levels, action, flood, moderate ## major, and record. import arcpy import sys arcpy.env.Workspace = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\grand_forks_point.shp" inFC = arcpy.env.Workspace moorElev = 861 outAction = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\gf_outaction.shp" outFlood = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\gf_outfld.shp" outModerate = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\gf_outmod.shp" outMajor = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\gf_outmjr.shp" outRecord = "E:\Programming\Project_Data\Output_Rasters\gf_outrec.shp" arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outAction, '"GRID_CODE" < 807') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outFlood, '"GRID_CODE" < 819') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outModerate, '"GRID_CODE" < 825') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outMajor, '"GRID_CODE" < 833') arcpy.Select_analysis (inFC, outRecord, '"GRID_CODE" < 834')

Appendix 3: Location of Files

File name, sub-folders, and remarks within Programming File

Folder Name Census Data Flood Maps Scripts MN_Data MN_Data 23 Sub-Folder Remarks Contains raw census data Contains all figures of flood inundation utilized in paper Contains all arcpy scripts utilized Contains raw data from MN DNR data deli Shapefile of MN county outlines

MN Counties

MN_Data Model Figures Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data Project_Data

MN Cities

Aggregated_Polygons Grand Forks DEM Intersected_Pop Moorhead DEM Output_Raster Temp_Rasters Toolbox

Shapefile of MN municipal boundaries Contains figures from model builder Grand Forks and Moorhead point files Final layer of polygons before overlaid with census tracts Raw ASCII DEM file for Grand Forks The final layer of the model - combined census tracts and aggregated polygons for both Grand Forks and Moorhead Raw ASCII DEM file for Moorhead Converted raster layers to polygons Converted point files into raster layer Contains python scripts and model builder files utilized in the model

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