top of page

Increased flooding in the U.S. will hit poor and Black communities the hardest

The risk of increased flooding due to climate change will hit poor and Black communities the hardest over the coming years, according to new research.

A new report in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change reveals new data from updated flood risk models that shows flood risk in the U.S. will increase by 26.4% over the next thirty years.

Those floods will impact the Black and low income communities that already bear the brunt of the $32.1 billion in annual losses caused by floods over the past decades.

These revelations come from new analysis conducted by researchers affiliated with the New York-based nonprofit First Street Foundation; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the UK-based flood risk modeling firm, Fathom; the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Bristol.

"The present means by which flood risk is managed globally is predicated on the assumption that history is a good predictor of the future," the authors of the report wrote. But that's no longer the case. "[Ubiquitous] flood risk management tools fail to recognize that the nature of floods is changing."'

Climate change is transforming weather patterns, creating conditions for heavier rainstorms that make inland flooding more severe, according to the authors. Coupled with rising seawaters caused by melting icecaps and glaciers, these intensifying storms are recipe for disaster in areas that had not seen flood risk before.

The result of the increasing probability of stronger storms causing more flooding is more costs for the populations least able to afford them.

Damages from flooding could reach $40.6 billion annually by 2050, according to the study's authors. And the places that will be most impacted are coastal Louisiana, Florida, Appalachia, the inland area of the Northeast and the Eastern seaboard, and rural counties in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

And in these regions, the communities that will be most affected are the poor and minority population centers rather than wealthier enclaves.

"Flood risk is not borne equally by all," the authors write.

To date, it's been poor, rural white populations that have been most affected, according to the study. "We consistently see that present-day flood risk is concentrated in both the most White and the most impoverished communities across the nation," according to the authors.

"Meanwhile, expected changes in flood risk up to 2050 show a largely different trend in demography compared with who bears present-day risk... Areas with high Black population proportions are clearly concentrated across the Deep South, in the very locations where climate change is expected to intensify flood risk. Urban and rural areas alike from Texas through Florida to Virginia contain predominantly Black communities projected to see at least a 20% increase in flood risk over the next 30 years."

The paper highlights the need for more than just mitigation strategies to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. One of the lead authors of the report underscored the importance of developing new adaptation strategies to address the environmental damages that global warming will assuredly bring -- even with our efforts to reduce rising temperatures.

“We are already experiencing an unacceptably high level of risk – that is down to poor planning, poor decision making and poor policies that have allowed this to happen. All climate change really does is intensify that demand to adapt," the lead researcher of the report, Dr. Oliver Wing, told the outlet CarbonBrief in an interview. “Land that nobody should be living on is being developed on, and has historically been developed. And the effect of that is much, much greater than climate change… The solutions are conceptually quite straightforward – to not build things in flood hazard zones.”


bottom of page