Gulf of Mexico
Hurricane Harvey Flooding Houston Texas.

TX - Coastal Texas Could Be Under Water By 2050 Because Of Climate Change

A new computerized climate modeling tool that combines multiple data streams to assess an area's risk of flooding shows almost the entire Texas coast is below the predicted flood level by 2050.

Cities from Corpus Christie to Galveston could see flooding become an annual event in less than 30 years. The implications of this on both the overall quality of life and the real estate industry along Texas's Gulf Coast are frightening to contemplate.

South Texas, which includes the Houston metropolitan area, has been one of the strongest real estate markets in the country since the pandemic. Houston has become America's fourth-largest city. The city and surrounding suburbs are known as the Petro Metro because the oil industry is one of its largest employers. The easy access to the Gulf Coast is another draw for people moving to the area.

A Victim Of Its Success

The oil industry is almost synonymous with Texas — so much so that the hit TV show "Dallas" featured the travails and scandals of one of Texas's most prominent oil families. Houston, home to many petroleum companies and refineries and one of America's largest ports also owes much of its economic positioning to the success of the oil industry.

Now, the climate risk posed by all that fossil fuel success is threatening the long-term viability of the region. Climate change is having several negative effects on the region, the most obvious of which is more intense and more frequent hurricanes. Another risk, which poses an equally significant danger, is rising tides and coastal flooding. When these risks are factored together by the climate modeler, coastal Texas's long-term future looks ominous.

The Risk Is Real For Mortgage Holders And Investors

The good old days of buying 2,000-square-foot houses on the Texas coast for $150,000 or less are in the rearview mirror. That was possible in the 1990s, but today, that same house could cost well over $300,000. That's inexpensive by West Coast standards but still expensive enough to require most buyers to take out a mortgage.

Under this climate model, anyone who purchased a home on the Texas coast in the last five years and took out a 30-year mortgage can expect their home to flood at least once per year once the house is paid off. That elevated risk level also applies to larger, institutional investments held by the many real estate investment trusts (REITs) that have made aggressive moves into coastal and South Texas.

Making matters worse, this news comes at a time when insurance premiums are on a steady rise to compensate for the increased flood risk. If the climate models are correct and flooding becomes an annual occurrence, insurers may begin exiting the market. A mass exodus of insurers is already taking place in California and Florida.

Can the Risk be Mitigated?

It's important to understand that advanced computer modeling is not always 100% right. That means the direst predictions for coastal Texas's flood risk may not come true. It also means there is a chance the computer model is underestimating the flood risk, and it will become more prominent before 2050. In the meantime, communities can take steps to mitigate the risk level.

Some of those steps include public infrastructure improvements such as building seawalls — Galveston already has one — or moving population centers away from the most at-risk areas. Cities and states can also cooperate to preserve wetlands and marshes, both of which act as natural sponges and absorb flood waters. Short of that, the best way to mitigate this risk as an individual may be to avoid long-term investments in coastal Texas real estate entirely.

If you're living in the area now, you have a few decades to plan your move out. It’s not a pretty picture, but you're better off knowing and understanding the risk than not. Whatever the case, if you're potentially affected by climate change-related flood risk in coastal Texas, the worst thing you can do is nothing.  

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