An integrated evaluation of the National Water Model (NWM)-Height Above Nearest Drainage (HAND) flood mapping methodology


Sagy Cohen  J. M. Johnson, D. Eyelade




Johnson, J. M., D. Munasinghe, D. Eyelade, and S. Cohen. 2019. An integrated evaluation of the National Water Model (NWM)-Height Above Nearest Drainage (HAND) flood mapping methodology. Natural Hazards Earth Systems Science 19: 2405-2420.

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Flood maps are needed for emergency response, research, and planning. The Height Above Nearest Drainage (HAND) technique is a low-complexity, terrain-based approach for inundation mapping using elevation data, discharge–height relationships, and streamflow inputs. The recent operational capacities of the NOAA National Water Model (NWM) and preprocessed HAND products from the University of Texas offer an operational framework for real-time and forecast flood guidance across the US. In this study, we evaluate the integrated National Water Model –Height Above Nearest Drainage (NWM–HAND) flood mapping approach using 28 remotely sensed inundation maps and 54 reach-level catchments. The results show the NWM–HAND method tends to underpredict inundated cells in 4th-order and lower-order reaches but does better with a slight tendency to overpredict in high-order reaches. An evaluation of the roughness coefficient used in the production of synthetic rating curves suggests it is the most important parameter for correcting these errors. Persistent inaccuracies do occur when NWM streamflow predictions are substantially biased (>60 % mean absolute error between NWM and observed streamflow) and in regions of low relief. Overall, the NWM–HAND method does not accurately capture inundated cells but is quite capable of highlighting regions likely to be at risk in 4th-order streams and higher. While NWM–HAND should be used with caution when identifying flood boundaries or making decisions of whether a cell is dry or wet, its applicability as a high-level guidance tool along larger rivers is noteworthy.