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Delaware’s Small Size Hides Big Flood Risks

While many people think of Delaware as nothing more than one of the small states in the northeastern United States, "The First State" is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches along the Atlantic Coast. However, with those beautiful beaches comes the inevitable risk of flooding. According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Delaware has 381 miles of coastline. That number is truly remarkable considering how small Delaware is in total land size. While it may be easy to assume that Delaware's minimal population of 975,000 may mean that there is little flood risk, that’s simply not the case. What’s even more alarming is that homeowners in Delaware may not be aware of how much flood risk they’re actually facing.

Does Delaware Have Flood Risk?

It’s easy to take a look at a state’s geographic location and determine whether or not it faces risk of flooding. For instance, Delaware is on the Atlantic Coast, so it’s safe to assume that there is some flood risk. While that’s true, it’s important to note the severity of the flood risk that homeowners in Delaware face. Don’t let Delaware’s relatively low population and small total size fool you. There is imminent flood risk for homeowners in Delaware, and that risk is only expected to get worse going forward.

According to Risk Factor, there are currently 51,095 homes in Delaware that have a greater than 26% chance of flooding in the next 30 years. That number represents approximately 15% of properties in the state.

A similar study published by The First Street Foundation paints an even bleaker picture for homeowners in Delaware. According to their study, there are currently 39,700 homes in the state that have a substantial risk of flooding today. That number is expected to increase by 8,300 by 2050, resulting in 48,000 homes (or 21%) being at substantial risk for flooding. The increased likelihood of flooding in Delaware is near the top in national rankings.

The First Street Foundation gauges multiple aspects of flood risk. For instance, that projected increase of 21% of substantial flood risk in Delaware puts it second in the nation behind only Louisiana. Furthermore, the fact that 22.7% of properties in Delaware are expected to face any risk of flooding in the next 30 years also comes in second, behind only Virginia.

Conflicting Information

One of the most dangerous aspects of flood risk is found in the fact that there is conflicting information floating around. For example, many real estate industry professionals such as mortgage lenders and real estate agents rely primarily on FEMA’s study concerning Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). In general, FEMA’s numbers are much lower than the numbers published by companies like Risk Factor and The First Street Foundation. This is primarily based on the fact that FEMA relies heavily on past data.

While past weather events can certainly be indicative of the future, it’s important that there are other factors to consider. FEMA doesn’t rely as much on forecasting and projections, resulting in a discrepancy between their flood data and the data produced by The First Street Foundation.

For instance, while The First Street Foundation reports that there are 39,700 properties in Delaware that are at substantial risk for flooding, FEMA reports that there are only 29,000 properties at substantial risk for flooding. This discrepancy of 10,700 is only expected to grow larger, as projections indicate that the gap will grow to 19,100 by 2050.

Homeowners who rely solely on the FEMA data used by real estate professionals may face the risk of being underinsured, or even uninsured in the face of flooding. This could result in complete financial ruin for homeowners who lose everything in a flood without flood insurance.

Localized Flood Risk

In addition to statewide data, The First Street Foundation also publishes localized flood data. This data includes areas in Delaware that have the greatest relative growing risk, the greatest number of properties at risk, and the greatest proportion of at-risk properties. Homeowners who live in any of the areas that we’re about to discuss should certainly consider their current insurance status regarding flooding.

Bethany Beach, one of the most popular beach areas in the northeastern United States has the greatest proportion of properties that are currently at any risk for flooding. The 2,135 at-risk properties represent 97% of properties in the area. That number, which is expected to reach 2,186 by 2050 will represent 99% of homes in the area.

Rehoboth Beach, another highly regarded beach in Delaware has the distinction of having the greatest relative growing risk. While we’ve established that Delaware has one of the highest relative growing risks in the nation, Rehoboth Beach has the highest rate in the state. There are currently only 33 homes in Rehoboth Beach at risk for flooding, which totals 2% of homes in the area. Alarmingly, that number is expected to increase by 649% by 2050, as there will be 247 homes in the area at risk for flooding, a number that will represent 11% of homes in the area.

Finally, Bethany Beach makes a second appearance in The First Street Foundation’s report, as it is also the area that has the greatest number of properties that are currently at risk. The 2,135 properties that were discussed earlier is expected to increase to 2,186 by 2050, meaning that 99% of homes in Bethany Beach will be at risk for flooding.

What Should Delaware Homeowners Do?

The most important thing that homeowners in Delaware can do to protect themselves from the increased flood risk that they’re facing is to be better informed. Instead of simply trusting the information provided by a mortgage lender or a real estate agent, homeowners should spend some time consulting other sources that discuss the area of Delaware that they call home. Armed with more information, these homeowners can make sure that they have a sufficient amount of flood insurance on their property.

Furthermore, homeowners in Delaware should look for ways to upgrade their home to be more flood resistant. For example, EnduraFlood produces a water-resistant drywall that is designed to not absorb water. This ability to not absorb water can help ensure that homeowners don’t have to replace all the drywall in their home, or the insulation and lumber that is behind it. Being prepared is a great way to mitigate the damage caused by floods that homeowners in Delaware face.


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