Friday, June 2, 2023

Lessons From Hurricane Season in 2017: Got Flood Insurance?

It took less than a month for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season to become one of the worst in recorded history.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas on August 25 as a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 130 mph. The storm surge caused water to rise and in some places tides rose more than 12 feet above ground level. Harvey broke rainfall records as it moved for several days, with some areas receiving more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.

Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on September 10 as a Category 4 hurricane. According to researchers, Irma is one of the most powerful storms to sweep through the Atlantic basin in more than a decade. Irma produced winds of 185 miles per hour for 37 hours, the longest time any cyclone anywhere in the world sustained that level of intensity.

On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph. The entire island suffered catastrophic damage. In some places the loss was absolute.

As an independent insurance agent who has lived and worked in South Florida for over 30 years, preparing for and recovering from storms is nothing new. But, this year was different. As Hurricane Irma made its way toward the southeast coast of the United States, we received an unprecedented number of calls about flood insurance. Why?

Everyone saw the devastating floods in Texas a few weeks ago caused by Hurricane Harvey. The loss was devastating. So the news was that nearly 80% of homeowners in the county most directly affected by the flood did not have flood insurance.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the most common and costliest natural disaster. FEMA’s Flood Hazard Mapping Program is used to identify flood hazards, assess flood risks, and determine flood insurance requirements.

Unfortunately, many homeowners and businesses decline to carry flood insurance because they are not located in a high-risk flood zone. Hurricane Harvey taught us that when it comes to flooding, Mother Nature doesn’t pay attention to FEMA’s flood zone maps. You shouldn’t either.

Flood zones are always being re-mapped, but this is a long process that can take years. Updated maps quickly become out of date. Furthermore, the process of identifying a property susceptible to flooding is not a perfect science. For example, the determination of flood zone fails to adequately consider:

  • local drainage issues;

  • long-term erosion;

  • ongoing development;

  • topographical variations on individual properties; Or

  • Failure of flood control systems.

This is why everyone should seriously consider flood insurance, whether or not they are located in a high-risk flood zone. The premiums are relatively affordable, especially when you consider the risks assumed by a flood insurance policy, such as:

  • overflow of inland or tidal water;

  • the collapse of land along a body of water by waves or currents; And

  • Rapid accumulation of surface water from any source, including blocked storm drains and broken water pipes below the ground surface.

Uninsured flood damage can devastate any home or business. In the span of just a few short weeks, we’ve seen the landfall of not one, not two, but three hurricanes that rank among the most powerful in recorded history. This is why those relying on flood zone maps to justify their decision not to purchase flood insurance should seriously reconsider.

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