A semi-automated vertical feature terrain extraction algorithm is described and applied to a two-dimensional, depth-integrated, shallow water equation inundation model. The extracted features describe what are commonly sub-mesh scale elevation details (ridge and valleys), which may be ignored in standard practice because adequate mesh resolution cannot be afforded. The extraction algorithm is semi-automated, requires minimal human intervention, and is reproducible. A lidar-derived digital elevation model (DEM) of coastal Mississippi and Alabama serves as the source data for the vertical feature extraction. Unstructured mesh nodes and element edges are aligned to the vertical features and an interpolation algorithm aimed at minimizing topographic elevation error assigns elevations to mesh nodes via the DEM. The end result is a mesh that accurately represents the bare earth surface as derived from lidar with element resolution in the floodplain ranging from 15 m to 200 m. To examine the influence of the inclusion of vertical features on overland flooding, two additional meshes were developed, one without crest elevations of the features and another with vertical features withheld. All three meshes were incorporated into a SWAN+ADCIRC model simulation of Hurricane Katrina. Each of the three models resulted in similar validation statistics when compared to observed time-series water levels at gages and post-storm collected high water marks. Simulated water level peaks yielded an R2 of 0.97 and upper and lower 95% confidence interval of ? ± 0.60 m. From the validation at the gages and HWM locations, it was not clear which of the three model experiments performed best in terms of accuracy. Examination of inundation extent among the three model results were compared to debris lines derived from NOAA post-event aerial imagery, and the mesh including vertical features showed higher accuracy. The comparison of model results to debris lines demonstrates that additional validation techniques are necessary for state-of-the-art flood inundation models. In addition, the semi-automated, unstructured mesh generation process presented herein increases the overall accuracy of simulated storm surge across the floodplain without reliance on hand digitization or sacrificing computational cost.