Climate change is driving more flooding across the country, and the cost of flood damage to homes can be enormous, according to a pair of new analyzes that examine the risks and costs of coastal flooding in the United States.
The results could hardly be more timely: Thousands of households are in shock after flooding killed dozens in Appalachia and destroyed homes in St. Louis and Arizona last week. And the peak of hurricane season is looming in the Atlantic.
Flooding linked to sea level rise is accelerating, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ocean water floods coastal towns during high tides, even when there is no storm.
“The impacts of sea level rise are happening now and are increasing rapidly,” says William Sweet, NOAA oceanographer and one of the report’s authors.
The number of days with so-called sunny floods is accelerating on the East and Gulf coasts. For example, in 2021 the North East experienced an average of 8 flood days at high tide, a 200% increase from the number of flood days in 2000.
In the future, such flooding could become routine, according to federal data. By 2050, high tides could send water into neighborhoods for dozens of days each year, the report said.
Sea levels are go up faster in parts of the United States, such as the mid-Atlantic and the Gulf Coast. The risk is highest in places where the water is rising and the land is also falling. This is happening very quickly in Louisiana and Texas, as humans are pumping out oil, gas, and drinking water, and the earth is collapsing because of this extraction.
“[In] In this part of the country, the land is sinking,” Sweet says. “And it is sinking at a rate, in some areas, faster than the ocean itself is rising.
This led to a rapid increase in the number of sunny days with water in the streets. For example, the area around Galveston, Texas went from an average of three days of flooding at high tide 20 years ago, to 14 days of such flooding last year, to a projection of 170 days or more by 2050. That means, every two days there would be a flood in the Galveston area.
Rising seas also exacerbate flooding during hurricanes. This is because storms push more seawater onto land. Salt water also fills underground drain pipes, which means rainwater backs up and collects in streets, parking lots and basements. And climate change is causing more rain to fall during storms, which can cause flash floods.
This all adds up to a dramatic increase in flood damage to homes. And floods are extremely costly. Over the past 10 years, the floods caused at least 50 billion dollars in damages in the United States
But what does this mean for people living on the frontlines of the floods? A new analysis commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that flood damage can cost a household tens of thousands of dollars and that many homebuyers are unaware of this potential cost.
The new report examines housing and flood data for three flood-prone coastal states: New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, and estimates that about 29,000 homes that were flooded in the past have been sold in 2021.
Actuaries used housing and flood models to estimate the future cost of flood damage to these homes. They predict North Carolina homeowners could sustain at least $35,000 in flood damage over the course of a 30-year mortgage. In New Jersey and New York, where homes are more expensive, the cost of future flood damage is even higher.
“I think putting a price tag on that amount of damage really shows how vulnerable home buyers can be, owning a previously flooded home,” says Joel Scata, who studies flood risk at Natural Resources. Defense Council.
He says they focused on those three states because homebuyers receive little to no information about a home’s flood history.
“The disclosure laws in these three states are inadequate because they don’t explicitly require home sellers to tell buyers if a home has ever flooded or how many times the home has ever flooded,” Scata says. Other states, such as Texas and Louisiana, require the disclosure of flood risk information when selling homes.
NPR analyzed flood disclosure laws across the country in 2020 and found that living in a flood-prone area without knowing it can be financially devastating, especially for low-income households and those who rent.
“It’s really important that homebuyers have the right to know what flood risk they might face,” Scata says. “The damages can be so high that it can be financially ruinous.”
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