Posted by: David Miller, Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration
Nature has already made the summer of 2012 historic in several ways: extreme heat and drought continues in many parts of the country. Severe storms and record wildfires have left many residents vulnerable to flooding. The recent wildfires have sadly impacted many lives, burned homes and structures, and left blackened landscapes in their wake.
The Heightened Risk of Flooding
Wildfires and drought seem to be happening more than usual this summer, and flooding remains the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States. The aftermath of wildfire and drought can create an increased risk for flooding. Wildfire and drought change landscapes, increasing flood risk in areas where floods are usually rare. Residents living in these areas may find themselves with a higher flood risk than usual – even if they weren’t directly impacted by the original event. In some areas, flash floods can develop in just a few minutes, even if there is no sign of rain.
Here’s why: the extreme heat caused by a wildfire doesn’t just burn trees and foliage – it chars the soil leaving an oily coating on top which is unable to absorb water like it normally would. Without plants and trees to take up water, and with soil unable to absorb water, even a simple rainstorm can be a recipe for a flooding disaster. In areas of extreme drought, the soil exhibits similar characteristics due to the inability of vegetation to absorb rainfall and reduce runoff. This creates conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow, as rain water can flow freely and pick up debris and sediment along the way. In areas impacted by wildfire, it could take up to five years for vegetation to grow back - meaning the heightened risk of flooding stays with a community long after the wildfire has been extinguished and drought conditions have passed.
Few realize how costly damage from flooding can be. For instance:
- Just a few inches of floodwaters on your property or in your home can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
- The average flood claim in 2010 was approximately $28,000, and without flood insurance, many must cover the costs to repair or rebuild on their own.
What you can do
Here are three things you can start working on now to protect yourself from flooding:
- Plan Ahead: Make a plan on where you’ll go in case of a sudden flash flood – making sure you know two evacuation routes in case one is cut off. Before a flood, conduct a home inventory; itemize and take pictures of possessions so you can document them for insurance purposes Keep important papers in a safe, waterproof place.
- Get Ready: Gather supplies in case of a storm, strengthen your home against damage, and review your insurance coverage. Ready.gov/floods are a great place to start for information on getting prepared.
- Get Insured: Only flood insurance covers flood damage. Most standard homeowner’s policies do not cover flood damage, so you are probably not covered under your current insurance policy. However, flood insurance is affordable. An average flood policy costs around $600 a year, and rates start at just $129 a year for homes in moderate- to low-risk areas. Remember, it’s affordable and typically takes 30 days for a new flood insurance policy to go into effect, so get your policy now. To learn about flood risks in your area and for information on flood insurance, contact your insurance agent, and visit www.floodsmart.gov.