El Niño: Most Californians Lack Flood Insurance

California Storm Flood Dec. 2014 (Associated Press)
Associated Press

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency urging all Californians to buy low-cost federally subsidized flood insurance in anticipation of the most powerful El Niño condition in history, residents should buy immediately.

Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $50 billion in economic losses each year. Most U.S. natural disasters declared by the president each year involve flooding, according the Insurance Information Institute.

The U.S. General Accounting Office maintains a list of government operations that it identifies as “high-risk list” to taxpayers due to greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

The U.S. National Flood Insurance Program is always near the top of that list, because satellite data can give potential purchasers a fairly accurate six month forecast of related risks for flooding. That explains why the Flood Insurance Program has lost the U.S. Treasury $23 billion, up from $20 billion in 2012.

Breitbart News reported on October 11 that the NOAA Climate Prediction Center stated the planet is already experiencing the most extreme El Niño conditions ever recorded, with sections of the equatorial central and eastern Pacific Ocean sea surface up a stunning 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit, versus 8 degrees in 1997-98.

That El Niño, from December 26 through January 3, 1997, brought over 20 inches of snow and rain to some locations in California. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate, and the state suffered about $1.8 billion in damages.

The next winter brought another strong El Niño that included four weeks in February 1998 of nearly continuous storm flooding, mudslides, and agriculture disruptions. California’s average rainfall that month totaled 21.74 inches, breaking the all-time-record of 17.33 inches, which had stood since 1867. A record 35 counties were declared federal disaster area, as California suffered 17 storm-deaths and $550 million in damages.

FEMA deputy associate administrator Roy Wright was reported by the Associated Press to have said at a press conference on October 24 that with a monster El Niño expected to bring torrential rains to the West Coast, “If there was ever a time to buy flood insurance, this is the time,” said Mr. Wright. “You cannot get it at the last minute. There’s a 30-day wait period for new flood insurance policies to go into effect.”

The www.floodsmart.gov website reveals that about half to two-thirds of Californians living in the high-risk floodplains have not purchased federal flood insurance this year. Data highlights that in the last 27 years about forty percent of California claims for flooding came in the 4 years the state experienced El Niño years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that there is a 95 percent chance that the current El Niño in the Northern Hemisphere will last through winter 2015-16, and about a 50 percent chance that it will last for two years.

The current flooding in Texas is a good example of the risk faced by Californians. Up to 18 inches of rain fell in a 24 hour period on October 23. A Union Pacific 100-car-train was knocked over by a 20-foot-high wall of water from a flash flood.

Flood insurance for Californians is a bargain at about $700 per year, given that the average claim is about $40,000. It is available to owners and renters of residential and commercial properties.


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