Flood Disasters Have Been More Common in Inland States, Not Along the Coast, Over the Past 10 Years

Linda Lam
Published: February 8, 2018

When many think of flood risks, coastal flooding and hurricanes typically come to mind, but inland areas also have reason to be concerned.

Over the past 10 years, eight of the 10 states that have seen the most flood disasters are inland, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The state with the most flood-related disasters from 2008-17 was Arkansas with 17, according to data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) database of disaster declarations, which was provided to the group.

Arkansas can be impacted by flash flooding from severe thunderstorms, enhanced by its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as river flooding, especially in the spring.

Numbers on the map indicate the number of flood disasters in each of the top 10 states, 2008-17.
(The Pew Charitable Trusts/FEMA Database of Disaster Declarations)

The Pew Charitable Trusts also found that "more than seven out of 10 presidential disaster declarations" are flood-related events. This includes hurricanes, severe storms and heavy rainfall.

Given how destructive flooding from hurricanes can be, you might think coastal states would have the most flood disasters. The data examined was from the last 10 years, which includes several fairly quiet years of hurricanes and tropical storms impacting the United States.

Prior to 2017, the last time a major hurricane – Category 3 or stronger – made landfall in the U.S. was October 2005. During this time, however, both Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 produced major storm surge flooding.

(MORE: Where Flooding Has Been Most Frequent in the U.S.)

Inland areas are also not immune from the dangers of tropical cyclones. Flooding from landfalling tropical systems can extend far inland and last for days if the remnants of a hurricane or tropical storm stall.

Coastal flooding can be devastating, especially in conjunction with a landfalling hurricane or tropical storm. Incredible flooding took place just last year in Texas and Louisiana due to Hurricane Harvey.

After making landfall near Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25, Harvey stalled over South Texas and then meandered east back into the Gulf of Mexico before making a final landfall near Cameron, Louisiana. This exceedingly slow movement led to catastrophic flooding, with widespread rainfall totals over 20 inches.

Rainfall produced by Harvey as it slowly moved through Texas and Louisiana.
(Weather Prediction Center/National Weather Service)

Areas farther inland are also prone to flooding from large-scale storm systems. Two of the top-10 states, Arkansas and Missouri, were involved in massive flooding last spring, amounting to more than $1 billion in damage.

Given the risk of flooding disasters and the fact that 2017 was the costliest year on record for weather disasters in the U.S., in part due to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, it is important to know your risk of flooding and have a plan.

(MORE: 2017 Was the Most Costly Weather Disaster Year in the U.S.)

Almost two out of every three U.S. flash flood deaths from 1995 to 2010 occurred in vehicles, so be cautious and avoid driving into an area where flash flooding is taking place.

The Pew Charitable Trusts also suggests changes to the federal flood insurance program are needed. In addition, government officials should look to "increase investments in hazard planning and mitigation to help states and municipalities prepare for and avoid the worst impacts of extreme weather events."

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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