U.S. homeowners can expect $ 20 billion in flood damage this year, according to new research by the nonprofit First Street Foundation. The dollar amount is roughly four times what Americans spent repairing flood damage in the 1980s, reflecting the impact of more irregular weather patterns due to climate change.
Residents in cities along the Gulf and East Coast are at the highest risk of flooding in absolute dollars. Seven of the ten cities with the largest flood losses are in Florida – Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, St. Petersburg and Tampa take first place.
However, the changing weather has also exposed many inland areas that are not affected by severe flooding to the potential for severe water damage. Parts of Appalachia and the Ozarks in particular are exposed to potential flood damage in areas outside of areas classified as flood risks by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Look at West Virginia, where 22% of all homes in the state – more than 100,000 homes – are at risk of structural flood damage, according to First Street analysis. Only a quarter of this is in an area designated by FEMA for special flood risks, where flood insurance is mandatory.
Historically, for budget reasons, FEMA does not map every square inch of the US, but prioritizes mapping parts of the country with the largest population. As a result, 6,500 communities do not have a flood map, while another 3,300 have a map that is 15 years or older, the Association of State Floodplain Managers wrote last year.
Flood mapping, according to the organization, serves several purposes beyond flood insurance, including planning commercial, private, and public safety to reduce future flood losses.
Incomplete mapping leaves exposed locations in the nation where flooding is caused by heavy rainfall and small rivers and creeks, added Jeremy Porter, director of research and development on First Street.
“These likely have heavy rainfall that will accumulate in the ravines, and [given] Due to the high variability in topography in the Appalachian Mountains, flooding occurs because all the water falls into one place, “Porter said.
He added, “Most of these properties are located outside of areas of particular flood risk. However, when you look at the real risk of rainfall and flooding on small waterways that are not covered by FEMA, you actually have significant risks.”
Flood risk calculator
First Street tried to fill that void by making a flood risk calculator publicly available for almost all homes in America last year and assigning it a rating for the likelihood of a flood. The new product builds on the group’s previous work and puts a dollar amount on the likely flood damage that homeowners are expected to cover. First Street’s database also indicates how that number is likely to change with future weather patterns.
This can be especially important as climate change is driving rainfall into new areas and potentially flooding unprepared inland communities. Two years ago, record rainfall and overflows from the Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi rivers forced thousands of people to evacuate, ruined crops and caused over $ 1 billion in damage. Record rainfall last year displaced thousands of Michigandans on the upper peninsula and caused widespread landslides and flooding in southeastern Alaska.
Billions in losses
First Street analyzed 4.3 million homes of four or fewer units at risk of flood damage and combined that information with data on building types to get dollar amounts on how much money homeowners in those areas were spending on flood repairs could. The estimates only include damage to buildings and do not take into account other major costs that residents often incur in flood disasters, such as the replacement of furniture and large appliances and the cost of temporary housing.
In areas in the southeastern United States that have long had a copaketic existence with water, rising sea levels lead to more flooding. On the Gulf Coast, where it is becoming increasingly common to raise houses to protect them from flooding, the potential for water damage is still high as flooding has become more frequent and intense.
Florida will lose most of the money on flood damage, according to First Street analysis. Not only does the state have a large population that has faced water ingress, but it also has a lot of expensive real estate in the flood zone. As a result, according to the analysis, Floridians can expect to pay $ 8 billion annually to remediate flood damage. Other states facing high water damage include California ($ 1.7 billion annually), South Carolina and Texas ($ 1.2 billion each), and Louisiana ($ 888 million).
“People underestimate the power and danger of water,” said Sheldon Yellen, managing director of Belfor Property Restoration. Yellen estimates that around half of Belfor’s work involves repairing water damage.
“Disasters are getting more expensive”
Floods are the most common and costly type of natural disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
More than 25 cities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts experience daily tidal waves, and “these trends are expected to continue,” Michael Grimm, assistant risk management administrator for the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, told Congress last year.
“Disasters are getting more and more expensive,” said Grimm. “Direct average annual flood losses have quadrupled from about $ 4 billion per year in the 1980s to about $ 17 billion per year between 2010 and 2018.”
The trend towards more intense and severe flooding is “good in the American heartland,” Grimm told Congress. “Just increasing the distance to large bodies of water is no guarantee of protection against flood damage or changing weather conditions.”
First published on February 22, 2021 / 1:22 p.m.
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