Spoiler Alert: Another 1.6 million properties will be at 1% annual risk of flooding by 2050.
A new, nationwide flood modeling tool released Monday paints a picture of the U.S. as a country woefully underprepared for damaging floods, now and in the future.
The federal government’s best efforts to predict where flooding will strike have underestimated the risk to nearly 6 million homes and commercial properties primarily in the nation’s interior, leaving them unprepared for potential devastation, the analysis shows.
Meanwhile, the model prepares residents of coastal states and cities for risks to come as their communities head toward a future of more intense storms and rising seas.
Experts say the analysis is the latest evidence of a decades-long bungling of flood planning and policy at multiple levels of government across the country. And it presents difficult new questions about who will pay billions of dollars to save communities from going underwater: homeowners, towns and cities, or the U.S. taxpayer?
“Who is going to pay and how we are going to pay, is the ultimate question,” said A.R. Siders, a professor at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center.
The analysis was conducted by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit organization that paired dozens of scientists and engineers with researchers from academic institutions including the University of California-Berkeley, George Mason University and Rutgers University. The team combined several existing models of sea level rise, river line flooding and simulations of extreme weather events into a single, nationwide flood assessment model that examined risk in all states except Alaska and Hawaii.
The group's modeling 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 member.
While insurance and investment companies, such as Blackrock, have long used their own private models to make decisions, First Street will allow users of its Flood Factor site to view flood risks to individual properties and created a Flood Lab that allows academic researchers to further access data for research.
First Street’s newly combined model found that about 14.6 million homes and other structures across the country currently face a 1% annual risk of flooding, representing about one out of every 10 such real estate parcels nationwide. But First Street calculated that current maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency list just 8.7 million properties in the floodplain, a 40% under count compared with what First Street found.
And the situation is getting worse. In addition to a present-day analysis, First Street’s modeling incorporated 2050 projections from the International Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ primary scientific body on the issue. The conclusion: Another 1.6 million properties will be at 1% annual risk of flooding by 2050.
The 1% threshold is the gold standard used by the federal government to assess which homeowners are required to purchase flood insurance. But experts say it’s also misleading, as it actually equates a 1-in-4 chance of flooding over the course of a 30-year mortgage. Local and county planners also use the threshold to determine which areas are safe to develop.
Many flood experts said the discrepancy between the two models wasn’t surprising, given the limitations baked into FEMA’s calculations. The federal agency is stretched thin, struggling to keep its flood maps up to date, particularly for inland areas perceived to be less vulnerable than the coasts, experts said. The agency also looks only at historical data to assess where flooding could strike next, leaving out current and future models that assess where else risk might exist or even be growing.
Read the full article here: Article on Flooding - USA Today
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