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From Drought to Flood - the Sudden Exchange of One Hazard for Another in Texas

Tom Jeffery    |    Natural Hazard Risk

Among Texans, nearly every conversation about weather over the last several years has focused on the ongoing drought that has resulted in water supply shortages, mandatory restrictions of water use, severe wildfire conditions, and a considerable reduction in recreational lake activities and what were once “waterfront properties”.

But suddenly, the problem is not a lack of water, but too much water. Record amounts of precipitation have fallen in parts of eastern and central Texas, with forecasts indicating there is more on the way.1 The result? Severe and devastating flooding that has ravaged both urban and rural homes as well as businesses, automobiles, and infrastructure.

Flooding is one of the main causes of property damage in Texas. Approximately 12 percent of the state’s land area is susceptible to flooding, which makes it the top state for total flood prone area.2 Weather patterns that produce severe precipitation events combined with terrain that is conducive to overland flow of water has resulted in central Texas being one of the most flash-flood prone areas in the United States.3

Unfortunately, one of the most common refrains heard during and after a severe flooding event is that some homeowners were not insured for flood damage.5

Flash-Flooding Events by County

Flash-Flooding Events by County

CoreLogic analyzed nearly 3,500 flood events in Texas that occurred between 1950 and 2012 and determined that 88.7 percent possessed a flash-flood component. Although these flood events were scattered throughout the state, it is clear that flash-flooding does not occur randomly, but more frequently in the central part of the state - in areas commonly referred to as Flash Flood Alley (Figure 2).

One common method of evaluating flood-induced property damage is by reviewing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) paid losses. In fact, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):

  • The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) paid losses for flooding in Texas from January, 1978 through March 2015 totaling nearly $5.6 billion, which places Texas third on the list of states with NFIP payouts.4
  • Geographically, the region in Texas with the worst flood losses is located along the coast, centered on Galveston and Harris counties (Figure 3).
  • Galveston and Harris combined to claim 68.6 percent of the total NFIP losses in Texas over the course of the last 37 years, based on both coastal and inland flooding.4 Inland flooding contributed significantly to the state total, with Travis, Comal, and Guadalupe counties having high flood losses.
  • Texas has approximately eight million structures located in a floodplain and nearly three million of those structures are not insured for flood damage.6

NFIP Paid Loss by County

NFIP Paid Loss by County

In May 2015, the state of Texas set a new record for the amount of rainfall—7.54 inches—with some areas receiving 10 or more inches over the span of only a few days.1 Due to the intense precipitation and resulting flooding, more than 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the raging water.7 Early estimates indicate that flood damage to insured automobiles may exceed $250 million dollars in Texas.8 When the rain ceases and the water recedes, the total number of properties impacted by this flooding may be even greater.It has never been more important to be aware of the flood risk on your property and to be prepared for future flood events.

*This image illustrates heavy rainfall events that hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area between May 7th and May 25th, 2015. The maximum storm intensity footprints were captured by our Storm Verification Technology based on radar data in the area.

  1. Texas Sets Record Wet Month., 5/29/2015.
  2. 2001 Blue Ribbon Committee Study -- Texas Senate Concurrent Resolution 68.
  3., 2015.
  4., FEMA, 2015.
  5. Texas Flooding 2015: Without Flood Insurance, Homeowners Face Challenges In Rebuilding Homes, International Business Times, May 27, 2015.
  6. FEMA Statistics, 2015.
  7. Texas Floods 2015: Residents Start Cleanup, Struggle With Damage After Torrential Rains, International Business Times, May 27, 2015.
  8. Update: Texas Auto Losses From Floods Could Top $250 Million. Best’s New Service, May 28, 2015.

Contributions were made to this article by Dr. Wei Du, chief hydrologist at CoreLogic.

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