Climate Crisis

Do you live here? Maps reveal the U.S. regions most at risk of floods

Costal and inland flooding alike will shape the nation’s future.

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As the climate crisis causes sea levels to rise, many costal areas in the U.S. have to meet a recurring problem: floods.

Intense storms and increased rainfall have caused historic inland floods as well.

Communities in Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania were slammed with intense floods in 2021, causing casualties and extensive property damage.

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Floods can be deadly and costly, too.

Rebuilding homes, infrastructure, and providing disaster relief services can cost billions of dollars every year.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts the skyrocketing costs of increased floods in the U.S., and which areas will be most affected.

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Researchers modeled how flood risk will increase by 2050. They found it will disproportionately affect various racial and socioeconomic groups.

“The mapping clearly indicates Black communities will be disproportionately affected in a warming world, in addition to the poorer white communities which predominantly bear the historical risk.”

-Oliver Wing, study co-author, in a statement

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Here are 9 charts that show the true cost of floods:

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Along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the average annual flood loss (in millions) will increase by over 20 percent in some places over the next 30 years.

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Predominantly white counties with high poverty rates have seen 10 times as many flood losses compared to white communities with the least amount of poverty. The latter typically concentrate in cities.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)

The researchers predict that from 2020 to 2050, Black communities will see a steady increase in annual flood losses overall.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)
In 2020, the flood losses of predominantly white counties with the largest proportions of residents in poverty (top) had greater losses than counties with lower proportions of white residents who have higher income levels (bottom).Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)
Here are those regions up close. Low income, high proportion white counties are in the top four panels, high income and low proportion are in the lower four.Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)
From 2020 to 2050, counties with the highest proportion of Black residents (top) are predicted to see higher increases in flood risk than those with the lowest concentrations.Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)
Here are those regions up close. Top four panels show the counties with highest proportion of Black residents, and the lower four have the lowest proportion.Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)

The number of people exposed to floods is expected to increase over the next three decades. Here are the numbers from 2020.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)

Climate change alone will drive a 10 percent increase in how many people are affected by flooding.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)

But population growth — which could contribute to more residents living in flood-prone areas — will also cause the flood exposure numbers to increase.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)

“Without policies to direct new development into safer areas, the contribution of population growth to future U.S. flood risk exceeds that of climatic changes [alone].”

Wing et al, study authors

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That brings the total risk of flood exposure to more than 150 percent in some areas by 2050.

Wing et al, Nature Climate Change (2022)