Texas Ranks #2 in States with Most Flood Damage

It’s easy to forget flooding in the middle of a drought. But we should never forget that Texas ranks #2 in states with the most flood damage. This and other statistics below demonstrate why we shouldn’t become complacent.

Debris pile from Imelda flood in Elm Grove Village (Kingwood).

Different Measures, Similar Rankings

Many ways exist to rank flood-prone areas and Texas ranks high on most of them.

  • National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) payouts? Texas ranks #2 after Louisiana between 1978-2021.
  • Most hurricanes? Out of the 300 hurricanes that made landfall in the US since 1851, Texas ranks #2 after Florida with 66 hitting the Lone Star state – 22% of the U.S. total.
  • Percentage of state’s total population living in floodplains? Texas ties for 10th according to a 2017 study. But a 2023 TWDB study shows that 20% of Texans now live in floodplains; that would tie us for 3rd if nothing else changed.
  • Most disaster declarations? Texas ranks #2 when considering all types.
  • Flood deaths? Texas ranks #1. Two hundred people died between 2010 and 2022. Over a longer period of time, 1959-2014, the state had over 850 flood deaths.
  • More Texans live in floodplains (one in five) than the entire populations of 30 other states.

Harris County Ranking

As bad as the Texas statistics are, Harris County’s are even worse.

Between 1978 and 2021, Harris County led all counties in the the entire country for NFIP claims filed (171,300), about 44% of the total claims for all of Texas.

Moreover, 42% of all Texans living in floodplains live in the San Jacinto watershed. The number of floodplain dwellers in the San Jacinto watershed alone exceeds the population of 15 states and the District of Columbia.

A Big Target

It’s important to look at many different measures, because no one measure conveys the full picture. For instance:

  • Number of hurricanes also reflects miles of subtropical shoreline.
  • The sheer size and population of Texas make it rank high on many measures. Said another way, we are a big target.
  • The high clay content of our soils discourages infiltration and encourages runoff of rainfall.
  • Dollar losses may depend as much as on affluence or population density in floodplains as the severity of flooding.
  • Dollar losses in Texas also reflect old building codes in many locations.

And then there’s the huge number of mobile homes in Texas. They are notoriously susceptible to high winds, like those often associated with hurricanes.

Their placement also makes them more vulnerable to flooding than other types of housing. A study by Headwaters Economics found that one in seven mobile homes is located in an area with high flood risk, compared to one in 10 for all other housing types.

Texas, a Leader in…

Texas leads the nation in many things: oil, gas, cotton, job creation, economic expansion and more. Unfortunately, we’re also a leader in flooding.

Better land-use and building codes could certainly help reduce the flooding. But will the state’s new flood plan recommend that? The focus seems to be on flood mitigation more than flood prevention.

The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group recommended $46 billion worth of studies and mitigation projects in its regional plan. And the San Jacinto is just one of 15 watersheds in the state!

In sharp contrast to the magnitude of mitigation needs, the legislature voted only approximately $1 billion for flood prevention projects this year.

That’s enough to make a dent in the state’s budget, but not the problem. Perhaps we need to re-examine our priorities.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 4, 2023, Labor Day

2197 Days since Hurricane Harvey