Flood Risk Myths

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Flood Risk Myths


If I'm in a low-risk area, it's not worth my time or effort to prepare for flooding.


Low risk does not equal no risk.

Every home is at some risk for flooding. Flooding events have occurred in all 50 states and in 98 percent of U.S. counties since 1996. For example, more than half of the Houston-area homes damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 were in low-risk areas.

In recent years, the United States has experienced several 1,000-year flood events, which is why it is important to be prepared and insured for current and future flood risk.

Living in a low-risk area means that you do not have as much of a risk from flooding of rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water. However, homes in low-risk areas can still flood due to flash floods or water main breaks. A flash flood is a flood that can happen within minutes or hours of heavy rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or city drains overflowing.

Characteristics of a specific home, such as land sloping downward toward the base of the home, also can contribute to flood risk. Many of these home-specific risks can be corrected.

It also is important to understand that an extreme weather event can affect anyone. When Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in the Houston area in 2017, more than half of the homes damaged were in areas classified as low risk, the Houston Chronicle reported. The same thing happened during a Houston-area flood in 2016.

The identification of flood risk is often based on maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency produces. These maps divide areas into different zones that are based on their level of risk.

These flood maps and their zones are largely developed based on known sources of flooding, such as rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes. However, those same maps are not able to measure the flood risk associated with a flash flooding event caused by torrential rainfall. Flash flooding can occur anywhere at any time, everywhere in the United States. Current flood maps also do not measure or predict the potential for increased risk in the future.


If I'm in a moderate-risk area, it's not worth my time or effort to prepare for flooding.


Moderate risk is still real risk.

Every home is at some risk for flooding. Flooding events have occurred in all 50 states and in 98 percent of U.S. counties.

Moderate risk means the chance for severe flooding in the area might be as low as 1 in 500 in any given year. But these so-called “500-year floods” have occurred nearly 30 times in the U.S. since 2010. And less severe but still damaging flooding occurs more often.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designation of an area being at moderate risk for flooding is based on many factors. The risk calculation is based on known sources of flooding, such as rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes. It does not take into account the flood risk associated with a flash flooding event caused by torrential rainfall. Flash flooding can occur anywhere at any time.

In addition to flooding from rivers, streams, and lakes, flooding can result from poor drainage systems, snowmelt, and broken water mains.

A designation of “moderate risk” means the location’s estimated risk for major flooding in any given year is between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500. This risk may seem insignificant, but it is a real risk.

FEMA explains those 1-in-100 odds this way: Imagine a roulette wheel with 100 slots. During each spin, the ball has an equal chance of falling into each slot. Similarly, a “100-year flood” could happen in any year. It could and has happened two years in a row in the same area, or several times within 10 years. For example, the greater Houston area experienced a “500-year flood” in both 2015 and 2016 and a “1,000-year flood” in 2017.

It also is important to understand that the 1-in-500 risk refers to the chance of only the most severe flooding. Lesser but still damaging flooding is more likely to occur. For a sense of the frequency, consider how often Iowa residents have dealt with flooding over the past three decades. A University of Iowa study found that major flooding has affected every Iowa county multiple times between 1988 and 2016. Many counties have experienced major flooding more than a dozen times.


If my home has never flooded in the past, I don't have to worry about flooding in the future.


Flood risk is rising.

Flooding is the country’s most common natural disaster. By some measures, 7 out of every 10 natural disasters in the U.S. are flood-related.

The Heartland is experiencing more and heavier rainstorms. That increases the chances for flooding.

Flood-related events such as hurricanes and severe storms accounted for more than 7 out of 10 presidential disaster declarations from 2008 to 2017, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency records. That study also found that major flooding has been more common in landlocked states — such as Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma — than on the coast.

Since 1958:

  • The amount of precipitation falling during heavy rainstorms has increased by 27 percent in the Southeast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported. That includes Arkansas.
  • Average annual precipitation in most of the Midwest — which includes Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska — has increased by 5 to 10 percent. Rainfall during the four wettest days of the year has increased by about 35 percent. The amount of water in most streams during the worst flood of the year has increased by more than 20 percent.
  • The amount of rain falling during the wettest four days of the year has increased by about 15 percent in the Great Plains, which includes Oklahoma. Over the next several decades in Oklahoma, the amount of rainfall during the wettest days of the year is likely to continue to increase, according to the EPA.


If I live in a 100-year flood plain, I only have to worry about a flood every 100 years.


A "100-year flood" can occur more than once in a decade in the same area, even two years in a row.

Living in a 100-year flood plain means that you have a 1-in-100 chance of experiencing an uncommonly big flood each year. Statistically, that means your home has a 1-in-4 chance of experiencing such a flood at least once in a 30-year period.

The 1-in-100 chance remains the same every year. Experiencing a big flood one year does not change the odds of a big flood occurring the next year.

As the U.S. Geological Survey explains it, the term “100-year flood” is misleading because it leads people to believe that it happens only once every 100 years. The truth is that an uncommonly big flood can happen any year.

The term “100-year flood” better describes the size of the flood than how often it might occur in a single 100-year period. In fact, there is a 1-in-100 chance that a flood this size will happen during any year. Perhaps a better term would be the “1-in-100 chance flood.”

It also is important to keep in mind that the 1-in-100 risk refers only to the chance of flooding that is close to the worst-case scenario. Lesser amounts of flooding can and do occur more often. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notes that the majority of floods consist of what some people refer to as 1-year, 5-year, or 10-year floods. These floods also can cause major damage.

That’s why it is best to be prepared for flooding every year.


It recently flooded here, so it will be a long time before we have another flood.


Severe floods can occur and have occurred in the same area within a few years of each other.

Flooding in one year does not affect the chances of flooding the next year. There are countless examples that show this.

In the last 30 years, each of Iowa’s 99 counties has experienced at least four major floods, according to the Iowa Flood Center. Many counties had five or more.

Residents of communities along the Meramec River in Missouri experienced two catastrophic floods in less than two years.

Major flooding occurred in the Houston area in 2015, 2016, and 2017. North Carolina communities were hit by a “500-year flood” in 2016 and “1,000-year flood”in 2018.

Flood Insurance Myths


Flooding probably won't cost me that much.


Even a small amount of floodwater in a home can cause thousands of dollars in damage.

Floodwater can damage both the structure and the contents of your home. Just one inch of floodwater in your home could cause more than $10,000 in damage.

FEMA provides estimates of flood loss potential related to the size of the home, the number of stories, and the value of possessions inside.


I don't have to buy flood insurance because I will get federal disaster assistance after a flood.


Federal disaster assistance is not a sure thing. Even if you get federal assistance, it often does not provide enough money to pay for all your repairs.

Federal disaster assistance is not available to everyone who experiences flooding. It’s available only if the president declares a disaster. This has happened in fewer than 50 percent of floods.

When federal money is available, it’s often paid out through low-interest loans or grants. The loans must be repaid, and the grants are meant only to help begin flood recovery. Most of these grants are not enough for a family to completely rebuild.

With flood insurance, you get financial help even if a disaster is not declared. You usually receive more money, and the money doesn’t need to be repaid.


My homeowners or renters insurance will cover flood damage.


Flood damage is almost never covered by a homeowners or renters insurance policy. You must purchase flood insurance separately.

Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program to make flood insurance more widely available. You can buy this flood insurance from an insurance company.

As a renter, you should purchase flood insurance that will help you pay for flood damage to the things you own inside the home.

As a homeowner, you should purchase flood insurance that will help you pay for flood damage to both your home and the contents inside.


Flood insurance is available and important only for people in areas at high risk for flooding.


Flood insurance is available and important, no matter where you live. That's true even in areas identified as having moderate or low risk for flooding.

Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help make flood insurance available everywhere in the country. You can buy this flood insurance from an insurance company.

More than 20 percent of flood insurance claims in the United States are filed by people living outside of high-risk flood zones. That shows that the risk of flooding is everywhere.

Here’s the good news. You can buy lower-cost flood insurance if you live in an area that is considered to be at moderate or low risk for flooding.

The NFIP’s Preferred Risk Policy is a lower-cost flood insurance policy available from insurance companies in most moderate- and low-risk areas.

You do not want to leave your home and family unprotected. In the North and South Carolina counties impacted by Hurricane Florence in 2018, there are estimates that only 10 percent of households have flood insurance. That will make it more difficult for them to rebuild their homes and lives. As reported by The Washington Post, “A key issue with Hurricane Florence [in 2018] and Hurricane Harvey last year is that some of the worst flooding occurred inland, sometimes in areas that were not FEMA-designated flood hazard zones.”

It is important to remember that NFIP flood insurance is available for purchase only if your home is in a community that participates in the program. But more than 22,000 cities and counties across the country do participate, so flood insurance is widely available.

Even if your community is not an NFIP participant, you still might be able to buy flood insurance. That’s because private flood insurance is available in some communities. You can find more information on this in our guide to flood insurance.


Flood insurance is too expensive.


Flood insurance may be more affordable than you think. It also can save you thousands of dollars in repair costs.

Buying flood insurance is a good use of your dollars. Without flood insurance, you likely will have to pay out of pocket or take out loans to repair and replace flood-damaged items. Flood insurance makes it easier to make your house a home again.

There are many factors that influence the cost of flood insurance, such as flood risk, year of construction, type of building, number of floors, and the location and type of items you own. Talk to an insurance provider to understand the cost of insuring your home against flood damage.

As a renter, you might be able to buy flood insurance for less than $200 a year if you live in an area at low or moderate risk for flooding. Costs are higher if you are a homeowner or if you live in a high-risk area. Read our Renters’ Guide to Flood Insurance and Homeowners’ Guide to Flood Insurance for more information on the costs of plans.


Flood insurance provides assistance for damage from major floods only.


Flood insurance can provide relief from floods caused by less severe weather or other issues. The flooding does not need to be the result of a major disaster.

For example, flood insurance can help if you experience damage from a water main break, groundwater seepage, or mudslides.

The items that are covered can vary based on the policy. Before buying a policy, ask the insurance agent what’s included.

Some sources of water damage are not typically covered, such as sewer backups that are not the direct result of flooding from a storm.


My mortgage company will tell me how much flood insurance coverage I need.


Your mortgage company will tell you to buy enough flood insurance coverage to comply with the law. That might not be enough to help you fully recover from flooding.

If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area, your mortgage company will require that you purchase flood insurance. Some lenders may require flood insurance if you live in a moderate-risk flooding area.

The amount of flood insurance you are required to buy is based on legal requirements. This includes factors such as how much money you owe on the loan you received to purchase your home. It is not based on how much coverage you need to repair or replace everything damaged in a flood.

Heartland Flood Help explains what flood insurance covers and what options are available.

If you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area, the amount of flood insurance coverage required by law is the lowest dollar amount of the following:

  • The maximum amount of NFIP coverage available for the property type
  • The outstanding principal balance of the loan
  • The insurable value of the structure

For example, assume that the following numbers are true:

  • The maximum amount of NFIP coverage available for your property type is $250,000.
  • You still owe the mortgage company $160,000 for the loan you received to buy your home.
  • The insurable value of the structure is $200,000.

This means that you must buy coverage of at least $160,000 for flood damage.


I can wait and buy flood insurance when I know a big storm is coming.


If you wait, it's too late. Most flood insurance policies do not take effect until 30 days after you buy them.

If your home floods before the 30-day waiting period ends, you will not be protected. You will not receive any money from your flood insurance plan to help you pay for damages.

The waiting period exists because insurance companies would lose money if most people bought flood insurance policies right before a big storm that could cause flooding.

However, there are some situations in which the policy can go into effect in less than 30 days. These rare exceptions include the following:

  • If you buy flood insurance within 13 months of your home’s location being newly designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area (high risk for flooding). In that situation, there is typically a one-day waiting period before your policy goes into effect.
  • If you purchase flood insurance in connection with getting, increasing, extending, or renewing your mortgage loan. The flood insurance is effective as soon as you close on the loan.
  • If you choose to increase flood insurance coverage when you renew your existing policy. There is no waiting period for the higher coverage, which begins on the renewal date.
  • If the flooding that damaged your home is caused or worsened by wildfire-related conditions on federal lands. Your coverage may go into effect immediately if you purchased the insurance before the fire was contained or within 60 days of a government agency declaring that the fire is 100 percent contained. The Federal Emergency Management Agency makes this exception because the fire’s destruction of vegetation can make the ground unable to absorb water, resulting in increased flood risks.


Flood insurance is available only for homeowners.


Flood insurance is available and important for renters as well as homeowners.

Even if your landlord has flood insurance, it covers damage to only the building. It does not cover the things you own in your home.

Flood insurance for renters is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. You can buy these policies from insurance companies.

Renters can purchase flood insurance that will pay them for as much as $100,000 in flood damage to things they own inside the home. That includes damage to belongings such as furniture, clothing, televisions, computers, and toys.