In this paper, the authors present an analysis of the magnitude of the temporal and spatial acceleration (inertial) terms in the surface-water flow equations and determine the conditions under which these inertial terms have sufficient magnitude to be required in the computations. Data from two South Florida field sites are examined and the relative magnitudes of temporal acceleration, spatial acceleration, and the gravity and friction terms are compared. Parameters are derived by using dimensionless numbers and applied to quantify the significance of the hydrodynamic effects. The time series of the ratio of the inertial and gravity terms from field sites are presented and compared with both a simplified indicator parameter and a more complex parameter called the Hydrodynamic Significance Number (HSN). Two test-case models were developed by using the SWIFT2D hydrodynamic simulator to examine flow behavior with and without the inertial terms and compute the HSN. The first model represented one of the previously-mentioned field sites during gate operations of a structure-managed coastal canal. The second model was a synthetic test case illustrating the drainage of water down a sloped surface from an initial stage while under constant flow. The analyses indicate that the times of substantial hydrodynamic effects are sporadic but significant. The simplified indicator parameter correlates much better with the hydrodynamic effect magnitude for a constant width channel such as Miami Canal than at the non-uniform North River. Higher HSN values indicate flow situations where the inertial terms are large and need to be taken into account.