Where disasters are concerned, this year is destined to go down in history as the year of the coronavirus — but that doesn't make the threat of seasonal weather events any less urgent. As flood season approaches, ValuePenguin analyzed flood insurance coverage statistics from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to find out which cities have the greatest exposure to flooding.
- Across the 100 largest U.S. cities, there are only four active flood insurance policies for every 10 houses located in high-risk flood zones.
- In seven of those major cities, the ratio was lower than two per 100. This included Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland.
- While the concept of a 100-year floodplain may not sound so dangerous, a homeowner in the floodplain actually has a 26% chance of being flooded over the duration of a 30-year mortgage.
- Because standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, it's important for homeowners in flood zones to understand and obtain effective flood insurance as a separate policy.
Cities with the lowest rates of flood insurance coverage
The level of preparedness for flood season varies from state to state. While certain regions such as Florida and Louisiana are widely recognized as especially prone to flooding, every location in the U.S. has some level of exposure to flood risk.
To identify the cities that have the greatest amount of uninsured exposure, we combined data from the NFIP as well as New York University's Furman Center. This allowed us to find the relationship between the number of active flood insurance policies and the number of owner-occupied housing units located in the 100-year floodplain.
Total housing units
Housing units in 100-year floodplain
Active flood insurance policies
Flood coverage ratio
|St. Louis, MO||1,234,148||26,863||307||1.1%|
|Grand Rapids, MI||407,242||8,883||181||2.0%|
The lowest rates of active flood insurance were found primarily in cities and states that haven't experienced catastrophic flood damage in a long time. These included cities such as Boise, Riverside and Detroit. While some may think homeowners in these cities don't really need flood insurance, FEMA's definition of the 100-year floodplain applies the same to Boise as to New Orleans.
Some areas, including New Orleans, had very high levels of coverage. This tended to happen in cities where the ratio of policies to high-risk properties exceeded 100%. The recent memory of severe flood events likely prompted homeowners who live outside the 100-year floodplain to purchase flood insurance as well.
Flood insurance coverage appeared fairly low on a national scale as well. When comparing the total number of policies versus vulnerable homes in all 100 cities, we found a ratio of roughly four policies for every 10 high-risk properties. Meanwhile, the median city had just one active flood insurance policy for every 10 high-risk properties.
Why is flood insurance important?
Flood insurance is not a replaceable coverage. Standard homeowners insurance policies do not offer any protection from damage caused by a natural flood, and every home in the United States has at least some risk of flood exposure. These factors make proper coverage an issue of national concern.
FEMA maps out areas at high risk of flooding through the use of the 100-year floodplain — also referred to as special flood hazard areas (SFHAs). This definition includes all areas that have a 1% chance of flooding in any given year. While that may not sound like a high level of risk, it becomes substantial when multiplied over several decades.
A homeowner in the 100-year floodplain runs a 26% risk of seeing at least one flood during the 30-year span of a standard mortgage.
This is why mortgage lenders are federally required to make sure borrowers located in an SFHA insure their properties against flooding. If you take out a mortgage to purchase a home in a high-risk area, you will need to build the cost of flood insurance into your budget alongside the cost of standard homeowners insurance.
How much does flood insurance normally cost?
The cost of flood coverage depends on your location and whether you pick public or private flood insurance. On average, a flood insurance policy backed by FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) costs $708 per year. However, the average may not tell you much because the prices vary greatly depending on your property and location.
The cost of flood insurance is connected to the level of risk in each policyholder's case. For floods, that risk is approximated through the use of FEMA's flood maps, which place homes in one of several different flood zones.
|B and X||Moderate: 0.2% – 1% chance||Not required|
|C and X||Moderate: < 0.2% chance||Not required|
|A, AE, AH, AO, AR, A1-30, A99||High: 1% chance||Required|
|V, VE, V1-V30||1% chance||Required|
What to do if your home is in a high-risk flood zone
You can look up your property's flood zone designation with FEMA's online mapping tool. However, the accuracy of FEMA's flood mapping has long been debated by homeowners. Many are surprised each year by changes to the map that drive up their flood insurance premiums.
If you believe your property is improperly mapped, you and your lender can jointly request a flood hazard determination review from FEMA by filing a Letter of Determination Review. The filing fee costs $80, and you must file the letter within 45 days of your lender informing you that your home is located in an SFHA. Even if FEMA grants your appeal, the lender is still within its rights to require flood insurance as a condition of your mortgage.
To look at how exposed major cities are to the risk of flooding, ValuePenguin relied on two data sources:
- FEMA's Flood Insurance Policy Information by State and Community
- The NYU Furman Center's FloodZoneData.us, which compiled the number of characteristics of housing stock located in FEMA flood zones
These sources told us how many flood insurance policies are active and how many housing units are located in the 100-year floodplain for each MSA. Dividing the number of active policies by the number of housing units produced a ratio of flood coverage versus at-risk properties. Cities represented in the table above include the 100 highest-population MSAs in the United States.