Adapting To Extreme Weather Impacts - FEMA Flood Hazard Maps Updated, Online, & Free


FEMA Geocoded Flood Map Viewer Interface - Pennsylvania example. Image credit:FEMA

This year's devastating floods in Nashville Tennessee brought more than just ruined homes and the destruction of historically important musical instruments. The broader meaning was well expressed in a headline published by the Tennessean, "Uncertainty rules life in flood zones." The uncertainty brought by a changing climate translates quite readily to economic impact for all those living in and near flood prone areas.

Until recently, evaluating flood hazard was a paper chase. Appraisers and insurance companies, for example, had to keep flood hazard maps for every single stream segment in their jurisdiction. Property owners were of "left out" of the loop, more or less, by lack of convenient access. That has now changed. As the flood waters of Nashville receded, a tool for understanding how your home and property could be affected by future weather extremes came on line. FEMA's Map Service Center has just finished updating and geo-coding flood hazard zone information Access is free and you can download data or interact with Google Earth.Using the online interface FEMA provides, all users need do is type in an address to get site-specific flood hazard zone information: as in the following example. The zoom is particularly useful.

I wanted to use Al Gore's residence as an example to illustrate, but didn't have the address. Next best thing, I figured, was to zoom in on the local office in Kentucky of US Senator Mitch McConnell: 601 W. Broadway; Louisville, KY 40202. Here's the result I got for the portion of Louisville KY just north of Mitch's local office.

The cross hatching depicted along the Ohio RIver indicates hazard zone "AE."

Possible outcomes:


  • Congress critters are catching on that a great deal hinges on FEMA's updated and easily accessed flood hazard information. Demands for dredging and levee buildings are surely flowing in.

  • Insurance companies can check on your risk with the click of a mouse.

  • Put a property up for sale and consumers can tell instantly whether it's inside, outside, or near to a flood hazard zone.

  • As flood zone maps online are adjusted to keep pace with actual flooding, property values and insurance rates will normalize around risk in something more closely approaching real time.

  • You won't need to hire an appraiser to understand the hazards and potential costs. This dance can happen right up until closing.