Lessons from the 2017 Hurricane Season: Do You Have Flood Insurance?

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

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeastern Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph. The storm surge raised water and tides more than 12 feet above ground level in some places. Harvey shattered rain records as it twisted for days, with some areas receiving more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.

Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. According to researchers, Irma is one of the most powerful storms to have swept the Atlantic basin in more than a decade. Irma had sustained winds of 185 mph for 37 hours, which is the longest a cyclone anywhere in the world has maintained that intensity.

On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm with winds of 250 mph. The entire island suffered catastrophic damage. In some places the damage was absolute.

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

Everyone saw the catastrophic flooding in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey just a few weeks earlier. The damage was okay. For example, the news was that nearly 80% of homeowners in the counties most directly affected by flooding did not have flood insurance.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), floods are the most common and costliest natural disaster. The FEMA flood hazard mapping program is used to identify flood hazards, assess flood risks, and determine flood insurance requirements.

Unfortunately, too many homeowners and businesses refuse to purchase flood insurance simply because they are not in a high-risk flood zone. Hurricane Harvey taught us that when flooding, Mother Nature doesn’t pay attention to FEMA’s flood zone maps. Neither do you.

Floodplains are always being remapped, but it is a long process that can take years. Updated maps quickly become obsolete. In addition, identifying property prone to flooding is not a perfect science. For example, when determining flood areas, insufficient account is taken of:

  • localized drainage problems;

  • prolonged erosion;

  • continuous development;

  • topographical deviations on individual properties; or

  • the failure of flood management systems.

Therefore, everyone should seriously consider flood insurance whether or not they are in a high-risk flood zone. Premiums are relatively affordable, especially when you consider the risks of flood insurance, such as:

  • overflow of inland or tidal water;

  • collapse of land along a body of water due to waves or currents; and

  • rapid accumulation of surface water from any source, including clogged rain drains and broken water pipes below the ground surface.

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Uninsured flood damage can destroy any home or business. Over the course of just a few weeks, we’ve seen the landfall of not one, not two, but three hurricanes that are among the most powerful storms in recorded history. This is why those who rely on flood zone maps to seriously reconsider their decision not to purchase flood insurance.