Virginia, one of the original 13 colonies, is widely known for being home to multiple Presidential homes, breathtaking trails that are part of the Appalachian Mountains, and some of the most historic sites in the United States. According to NOAA, the state is also home to roughly 5,000 miles of coastline, among the most in the United States. With so many miles of coastline that vary in type and size, it's important for homeowners in Virginia to understand the amount of flood risk they're facing. While "Old Dominion" is undoubtedly one of the most historic states in the US, it's also one of the top states in terms of flood risk.
What Is Virginia's Flood Risk?
The First Street Foundation, a company that studies and publishes flood data for every state, city, and municipality in the United States has provided a great deal of information about Virginia and its flood risk. According to their studies, the state of Virginia will have the highest number of properties facing any risk of flooding by 2050, as 28.4% of homes in the state are expected to face some level of flood risk in the next 30 years.
The First Street Foundation's study indicates that 133,700 homes in Virginia have a 99% chance of flooding at least once in the next three decades. Homes with a 99% chance of flooding are viewed as at a certain risk of flooding. As if 133,700 homes at certain risk for flooding wasn't alarming enough, The First Street Foundation also reports that there are currently 344,400 homes at substantial risk for flooding in Virginia. That number is expected to increase by 45,300 to 389,700 by the end of 2050. That is a 13% increase in a state already facing significant flood risk.
Risk Factor has also published data that should alarm Virginia homeowners. Per their report, there are currently 400,247 homes in Virginia with a greater than 26% chance of flooding at least once in the next three decades. That number represents 13% of properties in the state.
Virginia homeowners may find these numbers may be surprising because conflicting information is floating around. For example, FEMA's study on Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) paints a much less severe picture of the danger. Their data indicates that there are currently only 162,466 homes in Virginia at substantial risk for flooding. This difference of 181,934 is clearly way off when compared to The First Street Foundation. To make matters worse, that gap is expected to increase to 227,500 by the end of 2050.
Virginia homeowners may find these numbers may be surprising because conflicting information is floating around. For example, FEMA's study on Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) paints a much less severe picture of the danger.
While FEMA's information is certainly respected, it shouldn't be the only source people use when determining the amount of flood risk they're facing. In most cases, mortgage lenders and real estate agents will rely solely on FEMA studies when determining whether or not a property requires flood insurance. However, since FEMA's numbers are much lower than those provided by other sources, Virginia homeowners may lack the flood insurance they need to protect themselves from the financial devastation associated with flooding.
So, what explains the huge gap between First Street and Risk Factors' projections of Virginia's flood risk and FEMA's?
The main reason for the discrepancy is that FEMA relies very heavily on past data. Sources like Risk Factor and The First Street Foundation consider future projections and historical data. For instance, Risk Factor reports that Hurricane Florence impacted 2,450 Virginia properties in September of 2018. Risk Factor uses that data along with future projections to help determine the amount of flood risk Virginia is facing.
Localized Flood Risk
In addition to the statewide data provided by The First Street Foundation, they also publish information pertaining to each state's cities and municipalities. When broken down into localized data, the numbers paint an even grimmer picture for Virginia homeowners.
For example, Virginia Beach not only leads the state of Virginia in number of properties at risk for flooding, but it's also near the top in nationwide rankings. Reports indicate that there are currently 28,943 properties at risk for flooding in Virginia Beach, representing 20% of homes in the city. That number is expected to grow significantly over the next three decades, as there will be 52,125 (37%) of properties in Virginia Beach at risk for flooding by the end of 2050.
Norfolk has the distinction of being the city with the greatest relative growing risk in Virginia. There are currently 18,042 properties at risk for flooding, representing 27% of properties. That number is projected to increase by a staggering 200% by 2050, as The First Street Foundation reports that 54,054 (80%) properties will be at risk for flooding by the end of 2050.
Finally, The First Street Foundation also ranks cities with the greatest proportion of at-risk properties. Chicoteague, Virginia leads the state in that category, as there are currently 4,514 homes in the area that are at risk for flooding, which represents 80% of homes. That number is expected to remain close to the same over the next three decades.
Why Is Risk Increasing?
The primary reason for the growing risk of flooding is found in climate change. While Risk Factor reports that the likelihood of a hurricane like Hurricane Florence is expected to decrease, other types of flooding are expected to become more common. This is primarily because the atmosphere is heating up, which leads to a faster rate of evaporation. When the atmosphere holds more water, seemingly mundane rainstorms become more severe, which leads to flooding. In a state like Virginia that has so many miles of lake and river shorelines, this type of flooding is even more catastrophic. In addition to lake and river flooding, coastal flooding is also expected to increase as the surface temperature of the Atlantic Ocean continues to rise, resulting in more high-tide flooding.
What Can Homeowners Do?
The most important step that homeowners can take is to inform themselves about the risk of flooding that they’re facing. While real estate professionals often rely solely on FEMA’s data to determine the need for flood insurance, they won’t be the ones facing the financial loss associated with a flood. Homeowners should consult multiple outlets to determine how much flood insurance they need. Doing so ensures that they have financial protection against the floods that are so likely to hit Virginia over the next few decades.
Additionally, homeowners can install materials in their home that will help protect their property from flood damage. While contents are often destroyed during a flood, homeowners can protect their home from floods by installing materials such as EnduraFlood wall paneling. EnduraFlood’s water-resistant drywall protects the walls and the frame of the home from the damage associated with floodwaters.