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FEMA Lowballs Flood Risk and Leaves Maryland Homeowners Underinsured

George Washington called Maryland "The Old Line State." He was referencing the number of battlelines in the state instead of its 7,719 miles of coastline. However, that amount of coastline is staggering, especially when considering the overall small stature of Maryland as a whole. While the state is widely known for blue crabs, historic professional baseball and football teams, and being the birthplace of America's National Anthem, Maryland also has the unfortunate distinction of being a state at major risk for flooding. What's even sadder is that many homeowners in Maryland, especially those who don't live on the Atlantic Coast, may not be fully aware of the amount of flood risk they're facing. Homeowners in Maryland need to be aware of the hidden flood risk that they're facing.

Does Maryland Have Flood Risk?

It's easy to look at Maryland's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and realize there is a risk of flooding during a major weather event, but that only tells part of the story. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which calculates multiple types of shoreline when determining how many miles of shoreline a state has, reports that Maryland has more than 7,700 miles of shoreline. In a state so small, that number is absolutely staggering. It also significantly increases the flood risk that a state like Maryland faces.

Risk Factor, a company that studies past flood events, future projections, and other pieces of data, reports that there are currently 164,547 properties in Maryland with a greater than 26% chance of experiencing flooding at least once in the next 30 years. That number represents only 9% of properties in Maryland, but that primarily speaks to Maryland's large population.

In addition to looking at future projections that we will discuss later on, Risk Factor also considers past weather events. For example, 388 properties were impacted by a river flood in Shepherdstown, West Virginia in December 2018. Western Maryland, also referred to as The Maryland Panhandle, closely borders West Virginia at multiple points, allowing a flood in another state to impact homeowners in Maryland. Events like that one present an even greater chance of flooding for Maryland homeowners. While hurricanes are less likely to occur going forward, floods that impact rivers and streams are actually more likely to happen.

The First Street Foundation is another company that focuses on future flood projections, and their numbers should alarm Maryland homeowners even more. Per their report, Maryland has the fifth-highest increase in properties that will face any type of flood risk over the next 30 years, with 18.6% of properties falling under that category. Additionally, The First Street Foundation indicates that 40,700 properties in Maryland have a 99% chance of flooding at least once in that timeframe, meaning that those homes meet the requirement for being at “certain risk of flooding.”

The First Street Foundation doesn't solely focus on future projections. Their data that discusses things in the present are equally as alarming. They report that there are currently 133,700 properties in Maryland at substantial risk for flooding. That number is 75,000 higher than the numbers reported by FEMA. The First Street Foundation also reports that there will be 153,500 properties at substantial flood risk by 2050, an increase of 19,800 or 15%. While the current gap between their data and FEMA's data is large enough, that gap is expected to increase to 94,800 by 2050.

Why is there a gap between the data published by companies like Risk Factor and The First Street Foundation and the data provided by FEMA's study on Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA)? The answer to that question is primarily found in how these entities compute their data. FEMA relies heavily on past flood events to determine an area's present and future risk. In most cases, FEMA relies on flood data from the last 100 years to calculate the present and future risk that an area will face. This is especially troubling because mortgage lending and real estate professionals generally rely on FEMA's data to determine whether or not a property requires flood insurance. This data discrepancy often leads to homeowners not having enough flood insurance when their home suffers flood damage.

Understanding the Localized Flood Risk

In addition to providing data that discusses an entire state’s current and future risk. The First Street Foundation also provides data that focuses on individual cities and municipalities. That data is even more troubling for homeowners in Maryland.

Ocean City, Maryland, one of the most popular coastal cities in the North Atlantic region currently has the greatest proportion of properties at risk in Maryland. There are currently 6,319 properties at risk for flooding, which represents 85% of properties in the city. That number is expected to increase significantly, reaching 7,190 (97%) by the end of 2050.

Baltimore, Maryland, one of the most populated cities in the northeast has the distinction of having the greatest number of properties at risk. There are 13,705 properties at risk for flooding today. That number only represents 6% of properties in the city. Even though the number is only projected to increase to 15,378 (7%) by 2050, Baltimore’s dense population means that there will be a lot of at-risk properties going forward.

Finally, Chester, Maryland, a small town in its own right has the greatest relative growing risk. Today, there are only 260 homes in Chester that are at risk for flooding, but that still represents 10% of homes in the area. Alarmingly, that number is projected to increase by 158% by 2050, reaching 671 properties (26%) by the end of 2050.

Why Is Risk Changing?

The primary factor that leads to the increased risk of flooding in Maryland and across the United States is climate change. As we discussed earlier, the chance for major events like hurricanes is expected to decrease. However, a warmer atmosphere increases the likelihood that rainstorms and other weather events will lead to flooding. When the atmospheric temperature increases, water is evaporated faster. When the atmosphere holds more water, rainstorms occur with a greater ferocity, leading to fast-rising streams and rivers. This was the case in the December 2018 flood that impacted more than 300 Maryland properties.

What Can Homeowners Do?

As is the case in most aspects, being informed is paramount. Homeowners in Maryland should do their own research when determining how much flood insurance they should carry on their homes. While mortgage lenders and real estate agents may only be required to look at FEMA's data, that data doesn't tell the entire story. Consulting other sources, such as Risk Factor and The First Street Foundation allows homeowners to better assess their need for flood insurance. Having enough flood insurance can ensure that these homeowners don't face financial ruin in the days, weeks, and months that follow a flood.

Additionally, homeowners should consider installing flood-resistant materials in their homes. One such example is found in EnduraFlood's water-resistant drywall. EnduraFlood is made exclusively from waterproof materials. It protects the walls and the insulation and lumber found inside those walls. While homeowners may lose contents and suffer other types of flood damage, EnduraFlood drywall can significantly mitigate the amount of flood damage a property suffers.


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