South Carolina, also referred to as “The Palmetto State,” is widely known for it’s beautiful beaches, world-class golf courses, and breathtaking historic districts. However, with the presence of those beaches comes a great deal of coastline. In fact, South Carolina has around 187 miles of coastline, including a stretch known as the Grand Strand which stretches for more than 100 miles beginning at the southern tip of North Carolina. While South Carolina certainly isn’t the largest state in land area (it ranks 40th), it is the 23rd most populated state in the US. With that in mind, it’s important that homeowners in South Carolina understand the hidden risk of flooding that they may be subject to.
Does South Carolina Have Flood Risk?
Obviously, South Carolina has a certain amount of flood risk due to its position on the Atlantic Coast. However, that risk may be more prevalent than homeowners in The Palmetto State even realize.
According to Risk Factor, a company that studies the risk of flooding across the United States, there are currently 385,203 properties in South Carolina that have a greater than 26% chance of flooding at least once over the next three decades. This number represents roughly 17% of properties in the state.
The First Street Foundation, another company that publishes data about flooding across the United States not only confirms the data published by Risk Factor, but their information paints an even darker picture for homeowners. For instance, The First Street Foundation reports that South Carolina has the fifth highest proportional increase of properties with significant flood risk over the next 30 years with 16.7% of properties falling under that category. Per their report, there are currently 55,900 properties in South Carolina that have a 99% chance of flooding at least once in the next 30 years. Properties that have a 99% chance of flooding are considered a “certain flood risk” by The First Street Foundation.
In addition to the state-wide relative risk growing between now and 2050, The First Street Foundation also reports that South Carolina homeowners are facing significant danger in the present. Per their recent report, there are currently 271,500 properties in South Carolina that face significant risk of flooding. In even more alarming news, that number is expected to reach 316,900, an increase of 45,400 (17%) over the next 30 years.
The numbers published by both of these entities should certainly alarm homeowners in South Carolina. However, the information is even more staggering when one realizes that many homeowners receive data from FEMA’s study on Special Flood Hazard Areas. It’s not uncommon for real estate agents and mortgage lenders to rely solely on FEMA’s data when deciding whether or not a property requires flood insurance. Unfortunately, FEMA’s continued use of past data instead of future projections often leads to homeowners being underinsured, or even uninsured when dealing with floods.
It’s not uncommon for real estate agents and mortgage lenders to rely solely on FEMA’s data when deciding whether or not a property requires flood insurance. Unfortunately, FEMA’s continued use of past data instead of future projections often leads to homeowners being underinsured, or even uninsured when dealing with floods.
For instance, FEMA currently reports that there are currently only 196,900 properties in South Carolina at substantial risk for flooding. This difference of 74,600 is only expected to grow going forward. While FEMA does project an increase in flood risk in the next three decades, the gap between their projections and those of The First Street Foundation is actually expected to increase to 120,000 by 2050.
This skewed information often leads to homeowners believing that they don’t need flood insurance on their property. That is why it’s such a good idea for homeowners to consult multiple sources and then make their own decision regarding how much flood insurance they need for their South Carolina home.
Localized Flood Risk Factor
In addition to the information regarding statewide flood risk, The First Street Foundation also publishes information about certain cities and municipalities that are facing substantial flood risk. They break the data down into three different categories in order to explain which cities are facing particular types of growing flood risk.
For example, The First Street Foundation reports that Sea Brook Island currently has the greatest proportion of properties at risk for flooding in South Carolina. There are already 2,296 properties (97%) in the city with any risk of flooding, and that number is expected to increase to 2,303 by 2050, which represents 98% of homes in Sea Brook Island. Isle of Palms, South Carolina is a close second in this category, as there are presently 96% of homes (3,783) at risk for flooding, and that number is expected to go up to 98% (3,385) in the next three decades.
Bluffton, South Carolina holds the distinction of being the city with the greatest growing risk of flooding going forward. While we know that South Carolina as a state has the fifth highest growing risk of flooding, Bluffton has the highest risk in the state. There are currently 2,703 properties in Bluffton with a risk of flooding. That number only represents 20% of properties in the area. However, the next 30 years is expected to see an increase in risk, as there will be 7,600 properties in Bluffton at risk for flooding by 2050, a number that represents 57% of properties.
Finally, Charleston, South Carolina, one of the most historic areas of the state currently has the most properties at risk for flooding. There are 26,469 properties at risk for flooding, which represents 59% of properties in the city. Things are only expected to get worse for Charleston residents going forward. The First Street Foundation reports that there will be 33,704 properties at risk by 2050, a staggering 67% of properties in the city.
Why the Increase in Flood Risk?
While it’s easy to see that flood risk in South Carolina is going to become a bigger problem going forward, it’s also important to understand why. The most obvious answer to the question is found in global warming. While climate change is a hotly debated topic, the impact of it cannot be ignored. The surface temperature of the Atlantic Ocean increased by 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit in 2020. That number is expected to rise to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.
An increase in atmospheric temperature is also to blame for the increased flood risk. When the atmosphere is hotter, water from the earth’s surface evaporates faster. This leads to harder, faster rainstorms.
Finally, the risk of high-tide flooding is also growing along the Atlantic Coast. While there have been very few instances in recent years, Tides and Currents reports that the Atlantic Coast is expected to see anywhere between 45 and 70 annual occurrences of high-tide flooding going forward!
What Can Homeowners Do?
The most obvious step that homeowners can take to protect themselves from the risk of flooding is to be more informed about the flood risk that they face. While it’s easy to only rely on FEMA’s information that mortgage lenders and realtors use, that data only paints part of the picture. Homeowners should inform themselves as much as possible to ensure that they have the amount of flood insurance that they need.
Additionally, homeowners in South Carolina can install materials in their homes that can withstand flooding. With so many homes at certain risk of flooding, it’s a good idea to install materials such as EnduraFlood drywall in South Carolina homes. Doing so can ensure that homes don’t suffer more damage when and if floodwaters rise.