ArcGIS Online

Map in a minute: Map floods using ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Living Atlas

Currently the news is filled with images of massive flooding in coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama, with high winds and torrential rains.

Hurricane Sally shortly after landfall as seen on radar
Source: National Weather Service (public domain)

Heavy rains and flooding often accompany hurricanes and other storm events. According to NOAA, flooding is the major threat for inland populations. Flash flooding can occur in the blink of an eye due to intense rainfall, often accumulating from some distance away. Flooding along rivers and streams can last for many days after a storm has passed.


Make a flood map

ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World includes authoritative live feeds and other content that helps you learn more about current and predicted flood conditions. Follow these steps to make your own flood map in a minute.

Step 1 — Sign in to your account and open Map Viewer, click Add, then Browse Living Atlas Layers.

Browse Living Atlas

Step 2 — Enter “flood” in search to locate matching layers from the Living Atlas. Locate the Live Stream Gauges (Flooding) layer and click (+) to add it to the map.

Add from Living Atlas

Tip: To learn more about any layer, click the layer title or card to view the item details.

View item details

From the item Live Stream Gauges (Flooding) item details we learn that the layer shows real-time stream gauge measurements and displays those gauges that are currently flooding. The layer also includes information about the current flow and flood stage and presents information about the source.

Step 3 — Return to search using “flood” and scroll down to locate the National Water Model (Hourly) layer and click (+) to add it to the map.

Add from Living Atlas

From the National Water Model (Hourly Forecast) item details we learn that the layer presents a time-enabled model from the National Weather Service that forecasts streamflow volume and velocity for the entire United States. The model predicts the flow in every river reach of the National Hydrography Dataset.

Step 4 — Adjust the layer order to draw the gauges on top of the streams. In Content, grab the Live Stream Gauges layer and  drag and drop it above the National Water Model layer.

Order layers


The flood map

In just a few clicks a map showing current flood conditions and hourly forecasts for streams had been created. The map has been zoomed to the Gulf Coast area where Hurricane Sally’s effects are currently in evidence.

Flood map
View larger image

Since the National Water Model (Hourly Forecast) layer is time-enabled, a time slider appears at the bottom of the map. Using the time slider you can (a) play or pause the animation, (b) step forwards or backwards in time intervals, or (c) adjust time settings to set the playback speed, time span, and time display.

Time slider

Click a stream to identify it and view forecast flow and deviation from normal flow for the time period selected using the time slider.

National Water Model pop-up

Click a stream gauge to learn more about the current flow and status. Click More info in the pop-up to view details about the gauging station.

Stream gauge pop-up


Improve your map

Experiment with different basemaps to see which you like best. You can alter layer transparency and symbols to emphasize the content you want. Add additional layers, such as Recent Weather Radar Imagery, USA Weather Local Storm reports, or USA Weather Watches and Warnings for additional context.


More information

For more information, see:


About the author

Tech evangelist and product manager at Esri, focusing on ways to broaden access to geographic information and helping users succeed with the ArcGIS Platform. On a good day I'm making a map, on a great day I'm on one. Follow @bernszukalski or email


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