Floods and extreme flooding are the deadliest weather-related event in the United States. Over the past 30 years, there has been an average of 99 deaths each year from floods. Floods repeatedly leave people homeless, and only about 15% of American homeowners have flood insurance, a statistic that increased from 12% in 2016.
Understanding floods and the terminology associated with them is the first step to preparedness. There are several words and phrases meteorologists and local authorities use when talking about floods.
- Flood/Flash Flood Watch – conditions are favorable for flooding.
- Flood/Flash Flood Warning – flooding is currently occurring or imminent.
- Minor Flooding – when minimal or no property damage is expected, but flooding may cause minor public threat or inconvenience.
- Moderate Flooding – when some inundation of structures or roadways near bodies of water is expected and some evacuations may be necessary.
- Major Flooding – extreme inundation of structures and roadways and significant evacuations may be necessary.
Flooding is not easy to ignore. With 24-hour news, the scenes of rushing water and the homes and businesses destroyed by flooding are on repeat. It should make you think, "Am I at risk? Are my savings enough or should I buy flood insurance?"
Did you know that if your entire house flooded due to a storm, the National Flood Insurance Program has a simulator to predict the total cost in damages? The cost is based on the high of the water. For 1-4 inches of water, the estimated cost is $7,800. For 9-12 inches, the estimate is $18,930.
The risk of flooding is changing as both the intensity and frequency of storms reach dangerous levels. For the safety of your family and your financial security, the consideration of flood insurance should be revisited on an annual basis. Especially as we see an increase in rainfall resulting in higher water levels and historic floods due to climate change.
The severity and frequency of extreme rainfall are both increasing due to the reality of warmer oceans, greater humidity in the atmosphere, and overwhelmed aging drainage systems. As the world warms, storms can feed on warmer ocean waters, and the air can hold and dump more water. These trends have led to a pronounced increase in intense rainfall events and an increase in flooding risk. You may have noticed this in the increase of named hurricanes each year.
Just because it hasn’t flooded in your area in 40 years, doesn’t mean it won’t this year. Even the flood maps aren’t as reliable as they were. By believing the flooding myths and measurement of the past and not recognizing the changes we see in our weather patterns, you could be putting your family at risk.
Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, told The Washington Post, "We buy a house outside the 100-year flood zone, believing that means we're safe; we expect our storm sewer drains and our levees to protect us from all but the rarest extremes. We fail, however, to account for how these extremes are rapidly becoming more frequent in a changing climate."
Wherever it rains, it can flood. Be realistic and responsible about your actual flood risk. Count on the weather to be unpredictable — and increasingly more extreme. You can prepare yourself by asking these questions:
- Do you have the financial capacity to recover from a flood, without insurance?
- Does paying the average $700 annual premium make more sense than struggling to cover $37,000 in flood repairs without insurance?
- Can your small business could reopen after being wiped out after a flood?
- Is the 20% risk in the low-risk flood zone is an acceptable gamble to your family?
Flood damage may not always be avoidable, but some of it can be, and the financial impact of it can be with the purchase of flood insurance. If you think you may need flood insurance or have questions as to why your mortgage company requires it, there are several good reasons.