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Hurricanes, La Nina, and "Sunny Day Floods" Are Expanding North Carolina's Flood Maps

While North Carolina is widely known for college basketball, world-class barbecue, and being home to some of the world’s leading financial institutions’ headquarters, there is also a lot of coastal property in the state. In fact, North Carolina has 322 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. While this certainly lends itself to North Carolina’s variety of landscapes, it also poses a great amount of flood risk for homeowners in the Tarheel State. What’s even more alarming is that many homeowners in North Carolina may not be aware of just how much flood risk their home is facing. When protecting yourself against the risk of flooding, knowledge is power.

What is North Carolina’s Flood Risk?

According to Risk Factor, a company that relies on data from the past and projections for the future to determine the flood risk of every area of the United States, there are currently 636,642 homes in North Carolina that have a greater than 26% chance of being severely impacted by floods at least once in the next 30 years. That number represents an alarming 14% of homes in North Carolina that will probably be impacted by flooding at least once in the next three decades. Fortunately, homeowners in the state have access to information and materials that they need to better protect themselves, their homes, and their families from the damage that floods can cause.

Homeowners in North Carolina don’t have to go back very far to see the damage that flooding can cause. Risk Factor reports that Hurricane Florence, which impacted North Carolina in 2018, damaged 200,650 homes. The experts at Risk Factor do acknowledge that the chance for hurricanes is expected to decrease going forward, but that doesn’t mean that homeowners in North Carolina should assume that their homes are safe from flood damage. While hurricanes may be less likely going forward, rainfall is expected to increase in the area, leading to shallow-water flooding.

Additionally, Tides and Currents reports that states that are in the Mid Atlantic region can expect to experience high tide flooding at a higher rate going forward. This type of flooding, which is also sometimes referred to as “sunny day flooding” is directly related to a number of factors including La Nina and the earth’s location in the perigean cycle. While the west coast is expected to see a decrease in tidal flooding, the Atlantic Coast, especially areas along the Mid-Atlantic Coast are expected to see an increase in flooding.

The Causes for Increased Flood Risk

In addition to La Nina and the perigean cycle factors, global warming is also playing a huge role in the risk that North Carolina homeowners are facing. As more fossil fuels are being burnt, the atmosphere is becoming hotter. This increased atmospheric temperature leads to faster evaporation, which produces a saturated atmosphere. When rainstorms do take place, there is more moisture available, meaning that rain falls faster and at a higher level. This concept is largely to blame for the flood damage that has been so prominent in the news over the course of the last year.

What Does the Data Say About North Carolina?

In addition to Risk Factor, there are other entities that study flood risk for different areas of the United States. One such example is The First Street Foundation. According to a study that they recently published, there were 538,900 homes in North Carolina that were at a substantial risk for flooding. In even more alarming news, that number is expected to grow to 604,000 by the year 2050.

This type of data is especially troubling considering that many homeowners may have received unreliable information. For instance, many mortgage lenders and insurance companies rely solely on FEMA’s information on Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). FEMA primarily relies on historical data instead of considering future weather projections. Based on that information, FEMA reports that there are currently only 276,900 homes in North Carolina that are facing substantial risk of flood damage. That is a difference of 262,000 homes! That gap in at-risk homes grows significantly going forward, as according to FEMA’s data, there will only be 327,100 homes at substantial risk for flood damage by 2050. This is why it’s so important for homeowners in North Carolina to consult multiple sources when determining whether or not they need to take steps to protect themselves from flooding.

Localized Flood Data for North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina currently has the highest number of properties at substantial risk for flooding with 17,545 homes at risk for flooding. While that only represents 5% of properties in the city, that number is expected to grow to more than 18,500 in the next 30 years.

Almost every home in Avon, North Carolina, is in danger from flooding.

Avon, North Carolina currently has the greatest proportion of properties at risk for flood damage in the state. 2,052 homes, which represents 94% of properties are considered at risk by The First Street Foundation. Even more alarmingly, that number is expected to increase to 96% in the next 30 years.

Finally, Plymouth, North Carolina is at the top of the list regarding the greatest relative growing risk. While there are currently only 429 homes at substantial risk for flooding, that number is expected to reach 872 within the next three decades.

What Homeowners Can Do

The most important thing that homeowners in North Carolina can do to combat the risk of flooding is to be informed. While it’s easy to listen to a mortgage lender who tells you that you don’t have to buy flood insurance to get a mortgage, it’s important to understand that he or she is probably relying solely on FEMA flood maps. While this data is certainly important to review, it’s vital to understand that there are other groups out there that present very different information. It’s a good idea to have some level of flood insurance, even if it was not required when you purchased your home. This can help you protect yourself against the financial devastation that can result from a flood.

In addition to protecting yourself financially, you can also take steps to protect your home. While catastrophic flooding can certainly result in the loss of a home’s contents, it can also destroy the structural integrity of the home. For instance, drywall that is exposed to water can become riddled with mold within 24 hours of the exposure. Fortunately, there are options out there such as EnduraFlood drywall, which is water resistant. Investing in materials such as EnduraFlood can help homeowners minimize the amount of devastation that properties can face during a flood.


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