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article imageData shows 14.6 million properties in U.S. at risk from floods

By Karen Graham     Jun 29, 2020 in Environment
A new, nationwide flood modeling tool released Monday paints a picture of the U.S. as a country woefully underprepared for damaging floods, both now and in the future. And as climate change accelerates, the flood risk will only grow.
Looking back to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas in 2017, it was found that of the 1.6 million homes in Harris County, Texas, as of August 2016, 85 percent did not have flood insurance, based on data from the Insurance Information Institute.
Many people might ask why only 15 percent of homes in the area are covered by flood insurance? There are a number of reasons this happened. One is that Congress at that time was balking at requiring updated maps of flood zones and flood plains. and even more important, climate change has added to the problem, making storms more extensive and extreme, like Harvey.
Outdated FEMA flood plain maps, used as the standard to manage floodplains, determine insurance requirements and price policy premiums are often outdated when they are updated, and perhaps more troubling, fail to take into account global warming. Not only that, but the FEMA maps only look at coastal flooding, not flooding in the interior of the country.
A woman paddles down a flooded road while shuttling deliveries for her neighbors during the aftermat...
A woman paddles down a flooded road while shuttling deliveries for her neighbors during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas
Brendan Smialowski, AFP
Today, around 8.7 million properties are located in FEMA's Special Flood Hazard Areas.
But as many as 14.6 million properties — nearly 70 percent more than are in FEMA’s Special Flood Hazard Areas — may actually be at significant risk of flooding, according to new data from First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research, and technology group that experts say has put together the fullest picture yet of the country’s growing vulnerability to flooding.
“If you’re a homeowner, renter or buyer in this country and you want to understand flood risk, the only data that’s available to you are the FEMA flood maps,” said Matthew Eby, First Street’s founder and executive director. “And the FEMA flood maps are made to determine flood insurance rates — not necessarily to determine what your personal flood risk is.”
First Street Foundation
Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York, and Cape Coral, Florida top First Street’s list of cities with the most number of properties at risk. At the state level, Florida, Texas, California, New York and Pennsylvania have the most to lose. Florida and Texas also top FEMA’s list, but with significantly fewer properties estimated to be at risk, according to Reuters.
Actually, there is a growing urgency over flood damage and the recurrence of flooding and its impacts on the economy. It is estimated that by 2050, flood risk could impact over 16.2 million properties.
According to Michael Grimm, the assistant administrator for risk management for the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, who testified before the House Science Committee in February, flooding is now the most common and costly natural disaster in the US, causing some $155 billion in property damages in the last decade.
A historic flood inundates southern Louisiana.
A historic flood inundates southern Louisiana.
Eric Snitil / #Louisiana / Twitter
First Street looked at and took into account changes in precipitation due to climate change, as well as threats of storm surge from hurricanes and sea-level rise along coastal areas. Modeling shows that by 2050, nearly 98 percent of the properties in New Orleans could be at substantial risk of flooding.
The modeling performed by the group is “exactly what we need to be doing,” said Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT who serves on First Street’s advisory board, reports The Record-Herald. “Until recently we didn’t have people putting all these little pieces together,” he said. “We had really good people working on that little piece of the problem and good people working on another little corner.”
More about Climate change, Flooding, FEMA maps, First Street data, 40 undercount
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