This year is destined to go down in history as the year of historical inflation — but that doesn't make the threat of seasonal weather events any less urgent. With flood season approaching, ValuePenguin wanted to determine which cities have the greatest exposure to flooding. To do so, we analyzed flood insurance coverage statistics from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for the 100 most densely populated metro areas across the U.S.
- Only four in ten households located in high-risk flood zones have active flood insurance policies.
- In seven major cities, including Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland the ratio was lower than two per 100.
- A homeowner who lives in the 100-year floodplain has a 26% chance of being flooded during their 30-year mortgage.
- Standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, so it's crucial for homeowners in flood zones to obtain a separate policy with effective flood insurance.
Cities with the least flood insurance coverage
The level of preparedness for flood season varies from state to state, but many homeowners may wrongfully assume they are not at risk. While certain states such as Florida and Louisiana are known for being prone to flooding, every location in the U.S. has some level of risk for exposure to floods.
To identify the cities that have the greatest amount of uninsured exposure, we combined data from the NFIP and New York University's Furman Center. In doing so, we identified 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
|Grand Rapids, MI
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. This list of cities included 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.
Homeowners in some areas, including New Orleans, had very high levels of coverage. High coverage levels are common in cities where the ratio of policies to high-risk properties exceeds 100%. Homeowners who live outside the 100-year floodplain have likely been prompted to carry flood insurance by recent, severe flooding events as well.
Flood insurance coverage appeared fairly low on a national scale. When comparing the total number of policies to vulnerable homes, 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 some level of risk for flood exposure. These factors make proper coverage an issue of national concern.
But some homeowners need more coverage than others. FEMA maps out areas at high risk of flooding through what it calls the 100-year floodplain — also referred to as special flood hazard areas (SFHAs). Homes in this 100-year floodplain 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 has a 26% risk of experiencing a flood during the standard 30-year mortgage period.
For that reason, mortgage lenders are federally required to make sure that 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, as well as the cost of standard homeowners insurance.
How much does flood insurance cost?
The cost of flood coverage depends on several factors, including your location and whether you choose public or private flood insurance. The average cost for a flood insurance policy backed by FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is $708 per year. However, prices vary greatly depending on your property, location and insurer.
The cost of flood insurance is also connected to the level of risk for each policyholder. One way insurers determine risk is by using FEMA's flood maps, which place homes in one of several different flood zones.
|B and X
|Moderate: 0.2% – 1% chance
|C and X
|Moderate: < 0.2% chance
|A, AE, AH, AO, AR, A1-30, A99
|High: 1% chance
|V, VE, V1-V30
What to do if your home is in a high-risk flood zone
You can look up your property's flood zone designation by using FEMA's online mapping tool. However, the accuracy of FEMA's flood mapping has long been debated by homeowners. Many are surprised by annual changes to the map that can influence their flood insurance premiums.
If you believe your property has the wrong designation, you or a FEMA Permitted Certified Professional can submit a Letter of Map Change (LOMC) request to FEMA. To submit your own application you'll need to provide supporting documentation and pay any associated fees required by the agency.
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.