In preparation for the start of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season on June 1st, forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center were announced on May 24, 2022. NOAA is predicting a 65% probability of another above-average Atlantic hurricane season. This would be the seventh consecutive year with an above-average hurricane season. NOAA estimates that there will be 14 to 21 named storms this season, with 6 to 10 of these developing as hurricanes and 3 to 6 of the hurricanes developing into major hurricanes (category 3 to 5, with top winds of at least 111 miles per hour).

Factoring in Climate Change

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, unprecedented storms and hurricane seasons have continued to take place in recent years. The 2020 and 2021 Atlantic Hurricane seasons were the first and third most active hurricane seasons on record, respectively. In 2021, Hurricane Ida, with a whopping $75 billion in damages, stretched across nine states, impacting coastal, urban, and suburban communities. Meanwhile, the rainfall experienced across Southeast Texas during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 is historically unrivaled across the United States.

In addition to exacerbated flooding due to rainfall, storm surges in coastal areas are expected to become more prevalent with sea level rise and erosion as contributing factors. According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surges account for approximately half of hurricane fatalities from 1970 to the present. In the 2022 Sea Level Rise Technical Report, NOAA estimates a 10-to-12-inch average increase in sea level along the coastline of the United States between 2020 and 2050.  NOAA forecasts that moderate coastal flooding risk over a 30-year mortgage is anticipated to occur at a rate more than 10 times its current frequency. Just last month, two homes in North Carolina’s Outer Banks were swept into the sea. This is a grim outlook for coastal developments that have not been constructed to withstand the impacts.

Long-term data related to storm intensity and frequency continues to be studied to obtain a greater understanding of climatological influences on these patterns and tendencies. Models and outlooks produced using this data support critical decision-making tactics for state and local authorities. Providing accurate flood-risk mapping and studies remains a national priority to encourage preparedness and prevent loss of lives and property resulting from natural disaster flooding.

A property’s flood risk can be determined through local, state, and federal flood-mapping and risk-analysis products, with the primary resource being the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center. However, many FEMA maps are outdated, and the update process is lengthy. Furthermore, FEMA has only in the past two years released the Future of Flood Risk Data (FFRD) Initiative to provide a more comprehensive approach to identifying nationwide flood risks. Studies on factors, such as sea level rise and coastal erosion, that have an influence on future flood risk have been underway; however, the full use capabilities of this research have not been introduced into FEMA map resources. In fact, the most updated flood risk resources can often be found in websites and GIS maps of proactive municipalities. Reaching out to your community’s Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM), emergency management department, and/or public works department can help to further assess your property’s flood risk. As policy changes and funding are guided towards reducing community impacts from storms and flooding, staying up to date and having open communication with regulators is a valuable tool.

Designing Projects to Mitigate Flood Risks

As policymakers consider historical disasters and future climatological factors, comprehensive floodplain management policies are being incorporated into municipality codes of ordinances across the U.S. at an increasing rate. Typically, these policies address life safety measures, the protection of property, and consideration for natural floodplain values. New developments and rehabilitation projects can be designed to incorporate floodplain impact minimization and mitigation strategies, including the avoidance/minimization of development within the floodplain, elevating building spaces and equipment above the base flood elevation, adding a flood-protected ingress/egress, and incorporating innovative stormwater management solutions, to list a few. The type of flood risk(s) your property is vulnerable to, such as hurricane storm surges or riverine flooding, may influence the plans put in place to protect lives and preserve building integrity.

Federally funded projects, such as those applying for mortgage insurance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), must comply with Executive Order (EO) 11988, Floodplain Management. Working with a knowledgeable floodplain management professional is essential to properly analyze and evaluate the proposed impacts for a specific property to meet the requirements of EO 11988. For projects associated with federal undertakings, the evaluation of the impacts to the floodplain is implemented in the form of 5- or 8-Step Decision-Making Process. Partner’s Angelique Crews, a Certified Floodplain Manager, says that through the Decision-Making Process, “we can ultimately help identify mitigation requirements and clear guidance for a successful and flood-resilient project.”

Trained floodplain management consultants understand the guidelines originating from EO 11988 and know where to identify the local floodplain policies instructing a project. They can provide crucial support for navigating the ins and outs of floodplain management, adhering to regulatory mandates, and powering the mission to build successful, resilient projects with minimal impacts to the environment.