Climate Change Set To Send Costs of Flooding Soaring – Pioneering Research Forecasts Financial Toll

USA Nationwide Simulation 100 Year Design Flood

The nationwide simulation of the 100-year design flood from fluvial, pluvial, and coastal sources. Credit: Fathom (

Climate change could result in the financial toll of flooding rising by more than a quarter in the United States by 2050 – and disadvantaged communities will bear the biggest brunt, according to new research.

The University of Bristol-led study, published today (January 31, 2022) in Nature Climate Change, deployed advanced modeling techniques to make the colossal calculations, which forecasted average annual flood losses would increase by 26.4% from US$32 billion currently to US$40.6 billion in less than 30 years.

Distribution of US Flood Risk Maps

Maps showing the distribution of US flood risk (expressed as the annual average loss due to flooding) by county, and its projected change by 2050. Credit: Fathom (

By analyzing nationwide property asset data and detailed flood projections, the team of leading international flood risk scientists developed for the first time a comprehensive, high-resolution assessment of flood risk in the US. The estimates of financial loss, which include damage to homes, businesses and their contents, were based on 2021 dollar values so the actual numbers would likely be much bigger factoring in inflation.

Simulated Design Floods Des Moines

The extents of simulated design floods with a return period of 10, 100, and 1000 years in Des Moines, IA. Credit: Fathom (

While the research reveals poorer communities with a proportionally larger white population face the most danger at present, future growth in flood risk will have a greater impact on African American communities on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Predicted population change was also shown to have a huge effect on flood risk, resulting in four-fold increases compared to the impact of climate change alone and sending costs further spiraling.

100 Year Design Surface Water Flood Simulation in Oklahoma City

A 100-year design surface water flood simulation in Oklahoma City, OK. Credit: Fathom (

Lead author Dr. Oliver Wing, Honorary Research Fellow at the university’s world-renowned Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “Climate change combined with shifting populations present a double whammy of flood risk danger and the financial implications are staggering.

“Typical risk models rely on historical data which doesn’t capture projected climate change or offer sufficient detail. Our sophisticated techniques using state-of-the-science flood models give a much more accurate picture of future flooding and how populations will be affected.

2019 Midwestern US Floods Omaha

A simulation of the 2019 Midwestern US floods in Omaha, NE. Credit: Fathom (

“The mapping clearly indicates Black communities will be disproportionately affected in a warming world, in addition to the poorer White communities which predominantly bear the historical risk. Both of these findings are of significant concern. The research is a call to action for adaptation and mitigation work to be stepped up to reduce the devastating financial impact flooding wreaks on people’s lives.”

100 Year Design River Flood Simulation Kansas

A 100-year design river flood simulation in Kansas City, MO. Credit: Fathom (

The research was carried out in partnership with experts from universities in New York, California, and Philadelphia.

Co-author Professor Paul Bates CBE FRS, Professor of Hydrology at the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment and School of Geographical Sciences, said: “Current flood risk in western society is already unacceptably high, yet climate and population change threaten to inflate these losses significantly. The relatively short timescales over which this increase will take place mean we cannot rely on decarbonization to reduce the risk so we have to adapt better, both to the situation now and for the future.”

500 Year Design Storm Surge Miami

A 500-year design storm surge simulation in Miami, FL. Credit: Fathom (

Reference: “Inequitable patterns of US flood risk in the Anthropocene” by Oliver E. J. Wing, William Lehman, Paul D. Bates, Christopher C. Sampson, Niall Quinn, Andrew M. Smith, Jeffrey C. Neal, Jeremy R. Porter and Carolyn Kousky,  31 January 2022, Nature Climate Change.
DOI: 10.1038/s41558-021-01265-6

1 Comment on "Climate Change Set To Send Costs of Flooding Soaring – Pioneering Research Forecasts Financial Toll"

  1. There is no compelling evidence that so-called climate change has, is, or will contribute to more flooding. Climate models predict both wetter and drier conditions at the regional level — and sometimes models contradict each other. A quick look at the 2020 map of losses shows a high correlation with population density. I could frivolously suggest not living where the losses are high. However, more seriously, more stringent zoning regulations, and mitigation investments, will probably save more money than any attempts at trying to stop climate change.

    The use of the unsanctioned term “Anthropocene” says a lot about the (lack of) objectivity of the authors.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.