Low-elevation areas within a sandy barrier island are subject to flooding via saturation overland flow following moderate storm surges and rainfall events. Using a high resolution topographic survey and simple hydrology models, we estimate the discharge and velocities from storm surge return flow and saturation overland flow. Results show that return flow velocities are of the same magnitude as the critical velocity necessary to mobilize sand when a hydraulic connection between the watershed and back-barrier bay is present. Storms of moderate strength and rainfall intensity may be sufficient to keep the return channels open within the back-barrier, thus providing natural conduits for water exchange from overwash events during extreme storm surges triggered by hurricanes. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.