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Are You One of the 6 Million Homeowners
whose Flood Map Is Out of Date?

FEMA’s flood maps are a critical component of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which protects millions of Americans from financial and physical losses due to flooding. But these maps don’t tell the complete story of flood risk in the US.

As climate change intensifies flooding across the country every year, it’s difficult for maps to keep up. New data can help fill in some of the missing details, and a new risk rating system promises to ensure property owners can secure flood insurance that reflects their true flood risk.

Here’s what you need to know about how FEMA flood maps, how they’re changing, and what they mean for your property.

What’s Coming: More Severe Floods around the Country

The main challenge in updating the flood risks of millions of properties in the US is that risk is constantly changing along with the climate. 

We’ve talked about how climate change contributes to more severe flooding before, but it can be easy to lose sight of all the ways it impacts flood risk from coast to coast: 

  • A warmer atmosphere creates heavier rainfall and flash flooding events.
  • Heavier rainfall contributes to more inland flooding, especially communities along major rivers like the Missouri or Mississippi.  
  • A warmer atmosphere creates storms and hurricanes that are larger, more destructive, and last longer.
  • Melting Arctic and permafrost are raising sea levels worldwide, which cause phenomena like shoreline erosion and storm surges. 
  • Warmer weather in the cold season leads to winter flooding events like ice jams and snow melt.
flood maps warming winter temperatures

Figure 1: Winter temperature trends across the Lower 48 US from 1895 to 2017. Source: NOAA

As flood patterns evolve everywhere, we must prepare for more frequent, more intense flooding events as the new norm.

What’s Missing: The Discrepancy between FEMA Flood Maps and Reality

New data backs up these harsh realities of climate change and suggests that flood risk in America might be even worse than current flood maps have been able to illustrate.

The not-for-profit First Street Foundation recently modeled property-level flood risks in the US that take into account a number of factors not reflected in federal maps. The risk gap the research identified is consistent all across the US, from hurricane-prone parts of the South to inland regions like Appalachia and the Midwest.

Here are some of the takeaways from the data that reveal how massive a feat it is to fully capture the nation’s flood risk: 

  • 14.6 million properties are at risk from a 100-year flood – a flood with a one percent chance of striking annually – while FEMA flood maps show only 8.7 million properties in 100-year flood zones.
  • Major cities have thousands of additional at-risk properties not represented by FEMA flood maps: 75,000 in both Chicago and Los Angeles, 44,000 in New York City, and 30,000 in Philadelphia
  • FEMA flood maps don’t account for flooding due to intense rainfall, which is increasing everywhere as the atmosphere warms. 

FEMA says First Street’s research is an important contribution for property owners who want to better understand their flood risk. A more accurate, comprehensive flood risk evaluation system is on the horizon. 

What’s Changing: How FEMA Is Improving Its Risk Evaluation with Risk Rating 2.0

FEMA plans to implement Risk Rating 2.0 in October 2021, which will integrate a broader range of risk assessment methodologies to deliver up-to-date risk assessment and fairer rates to Americans.

FEMA’s flood risk rating system hasn’t changed since the 1970s, but flood risk and technology have evolved dramatically since then.

Risk Rating 2.0 will blend innovative data modelling systems like First Street’s with a more holistic definition of flooding that takes factors like sea-level rise and increased rainfall into account. It will also source data from a number of reputable research institutions, including the US Geological Survey, NOAA, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Risk Rating 2.0 promises a number of benefits to policyholders, agents, and the flood insurance industry as a whole: 

  • Creates an individualized picture of a property’s risk by including property-level risks like foundation and street location
  • Provides more straightforward rates for agents and policyholders
  • Includes more types of flood risk in rates
  • Reduced complexity for agents to generate a quote

Critically, the new Risk Rating also reflects the cost to rebuild, which means owners of lower-value homes will have access to more affordable coverage.

Don’t Rely on an Outdated Flood Map – Get Protected for Your True Risk

Identifying your flood risk is an essential first step toward getting the flood insurance coverage you need to protect your property from the increasing dangers of flooding. 

Despite the threat of more intense floods in 2021, Americans can rest assured that better federal and private flood insurance systems are on the way to both assess true flood risk and deliver the coverage to match.

Here at National Flood Services, we strive to provide people who need flood protection with the most up-to-date information about flood risk. Check your flood risk now.

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