“Texas is the land of perennial drought, broken by the occasional devastating flood” said a National Weather Service Meteorologist in 1927.1 Texas flooding is not a new phenomenon, but some could argue that devastating floods aren’t so “occasional” anymore.
Flash Flood Alley, the triangle area between San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, is where the most recent catastrophic flooding occurred. However, in May of 2015 Texas received 37 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the entire state in eight inches of rainwater. I don’t know about you, but imagining enough rain in one month to cover a state the size of Texas seems a bit unfathomable to me. In spring of 2016, Governor Abbott declared a state of disaster in 31 counties because the rain was so severe. Some parts of Harris County saw 18 inches overnight and two 100-year floods in a single week. Talking about a 250-year, 500-year, or even greater flood event is quickly becoming the new norm.
What could be causing this increase in flooding frequency and severity?
One contributing factor is the impact of rapid urbanization of major Texas cities. According to the United States Census Bureau, as of July 2015, five of the top eight fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are in Texas - Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas and Austin. Population growth across the state increased more than 76% between 1980 and 2010, and predictions do not indicate a change in this trend. With this increase in population comes rapid development of infrastructure to support that growth, substantially increasing the amount of impervious surfaces and therefore decreasing large areas that previously absorbed water. It’s not surprising that one result of new infrastructure is severe flooding. Drainage systems are not able to keep up with the new influx of water flowing into rivers, streams, etc., and we have seen many river crests break historical record levels in the past couple of years. Areas that had not flooded previously are now finding themselves underwater.
What does this mean for the insurance industry?
With the rapid change in topography, FEMA flood maps are becoming obsolete, which means relying solely on the designated flood zone is not enough to determine the actual exposure. At Gen Re, however, we have multiple tools and resources available to analyze this exposure and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you. Give us a call to learn more about how reinsurance may help protect you from a major loss.