(TNS) - About 8,200 Northeast Florida homes that aren’t at risk of structural damage from flooding today will be within 30 years, an organization using big data to project climate change impacts is forecasting.
Damage costs will rise exorbitantly, say projections by the nonprofit First Street Foundation.
A report the group released last week envisions floodwaters reaching buildings they currently can’t and spreading farther into many houses that now only get damp.
The effect nationally will be that yearly financial losses from flooding may rise from about $20 billion today to $32.2 billion — a 61 percent increase — by 2051, according to projections from elaborate computer modeling.
Florida will be front and center for those impacts, with First Street’s models estimating the state has more than a fifth of the country’s flood-exposed homes already.
Local officials were already worrying about rising water on their own.
“The greatest danger that Jacksonville faces is flooding,” a City Council special committee on resiliency concluded in a final report adopted last week.
About 112,000 Duval County residents sought help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Irma rolled past the community in September 2017, and Councilman Michael Boylan reminded the committee that most of the damage came from water, not wind.
“It was flooding, flooding and flooding,” said Boylan, who chairs the Northeast Florida Long-Term Recovery Organization, a post-hurricane aid group. “Three and a half years now since Hurricane Irma. And to this day … we still have about a dozen homes who are looking to repair,” he said.
Climate change will accelerate the potential for more damage like that, First Street’s projections say.
The organization estimates Northeast Florida has 31,911 homes with “substantial risk” of structural damage from floods. That means a yearly one-in-100 chance that floodwaters will reach the building, not just touch the yard.
It predicts that by 2051 that number will rise to 40,132 homes in Northeast Florida — about one in every 13 or 14 homes now standing.
There were about 85,000 flood insurance policies in place in Northeast Florida when the state compiled data for a five-year emergency management plan in 2018.
The projections for 2051 build on work First Street unveiled last year on floodfactor.com, a website that compiled topographic information, building records and complex flood modeling to let people type in addresses and get free, instant assessments of their flood risks.
The new work has added annual flood damage calculations and expected losses measured in five-year increments.
First Street's projections say the cost of flood damage to a community will rise not just because more homes are affected but because damage in individual homes could get worse over time.
For flood-prone homes in Duval County, First Street predicts the “average annual loss” — a figure used in insurance to measure the break-even cost of coverage — could rise from $4,262 now to $11,010 in 2051.
That could mean huge premium increases are ahead for those homes, but whether that cost will be passed directly to the owner, spread to other flood-insurance customers or passed to taxpayers isn’t completely guaranteed.
FEMA, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program, has been working on an overhaul of an insurance system that hasn't changed much in 50 years.
The agency has targeted an Oct. 1 rollout of an effort called Risk Rating 2.0 to create “rates that are fair, make sense, are easier to understand and better reflect a property’s unique flood risk.”
If the new premiums really are fair, they're almost sure to hurt the sales prices for some homes that have been charged less for flood insurance homes than it takes to repair them.
“As the necessary adjustments to premiums are put in place … properties which previously benefited most from subsidized rates will see a reduction in their underlying value,” said Jeremy Porter, head of research and development at First Street.
The Duval County homes that First Street forecasts having $11,010 in annual average losses in 30 years are only paying an average of $932 in premiums now, the organization's data says.
The gap between current premiums and projected losses is much wider in Duval County than the rest of the Fist Coast. It's followed by Clay County, with premiums averaging $1,512 in flood-prone homes and projected average losses of $10,425 in 30 year.
First Street's figures say Baker County homeowners would actually save money if they paid their average loss, which is projected to rise from $385 a year now to $480 in 2051. The average premium for flood-prone Baker homes is $555, the data says.
Whether First Street's projections are right could still depend on making sure the information about a specific home is right, however. Floodfactor.com produces address-specific pages with a link labeled "adjust building details" that changes a forecast depending on whether a home is built on a slab or over a crawl space or piers that stand higher off the ground.
The tool lets people see immediately the benefit of raising a building’s elevation, one of the common but expensive steps to protect houses from being destroyed by standing water.
But First Street’s data shouldn’t be used to predict flood damage at a specific home, according to the American Flood Coalition, a group that includes cities, businesses and members of Congress of both parties who say they want to “drive adaptation to the reality of higher seas, stronger storms, and more frequent flooding.”
The group points out that “average annual losses are estimates,” and cautioned there are too many variables to try to plan costs and damages by address.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Climate change to raise flooding risks, costs in Jacksonville area, researchers say
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