Gulf of Mexico
Florida National Guard soldiers assist residents of Escambia County in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally. Tech. Sgt. Christopher Milbrodt / U.S. Air Force/National Guard / Flickr

USA - EXTREME WEATHER: Analysis: 8 counties got half of 2020 flood claims

The federal flood insurance program paid $1.2 billion in claims in 2020, breaking the $1 billion threshold for a record sixth consecutive year, according to an E&E News analysis of federal records.

Eight counties — in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana — accounted for half of the claims payments, which arose from a series of storms that caused major but not catastrophic damage during last year's record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season. There were a record 30 named storms from June to December including 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes reaching Category 3 or higher.

Hurricane Sally, a Category 2 storm in September that hit the Gulf Coast in Alabama and Florida, accounted for roughly one-third of the claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program in 2020.

The high level of claims payments continues to put pressure on the program, which is supposed to be self-sustaining but owes federal taxpayers $20.5 billion because it was unable to pay all of the claims from the devastating 2017 hurricane season.

The average flood insurance payment last year was $47,000, which reflects a trend of costlier claims, E&E News found in an analysis of millions of NFIP payments since the 1970s.

In the past five years — from 2016 through 2020 — the average flood insurance payment was $71,900. In the five years from 1996 through 2000, the average payment was $20,400.

The increase in average payments is a result of climate change causing flooding to be more intense and damaging, and of the growing volume and value of coastal property.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the NFIP, is revising the premiums it charges its 5 million policyholders so that insurance rates better reflect the risk each property faces of being flooded and the amount of damage flooding would cause. New rates will begin to take effect in October.

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