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Financial toll caused by flooding will soar by mid-century

By deploying advanced computer modeling techniques, a new study led by the University of Bristol has found that the financial toll of flooding caused by climate change will rise by more than a quarter (from $32 billion currently to $40.6 billion) in the United States by 2050. According to the scientists, disadvantaged communities will be the most affected by these extreme events.

Through an in-depth analysis of nation-wide property asset data combined with detailed flood projections, an international team of researchers has developed for the first time a comprehensive, high-resolution assessment of flood risk in the United States, and estimated an increase of 26.4 percent over the next three decades in the financial toll caused by flooding. Since these estimates of financial loss (including damage to houses and businesses) were based on 2021 dollar values, the actual numbers may turn out to be higher due to inflation.

“Climate change combined with shifting populations present a double whammy of flood risk danger and the financial implications are staggering,” said study lead author Dr. Oliver Wing, a research fellow at the University of Bristol.

“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.”

According to Dr. Wing and his colleagues, disadvantaged communities such as Black or poorer White communities living on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will be disproportionately affected by flooding events. These findings are a call to action for stepping up adaptation and mitigation strategies aiming to reduce the devastating financial impact caused by flooding.

“Current flood risk in western society is already unacceptably high, yet climate and population change threaten to inflate these losses significantly,” said study co-author Paul Bates, a professor of Hydrology at the University of Bristol.

“The relatively short timescales over which this increase will take place mean we cannot rely on decarbonisation to reduce the risk, so we have to adapt better, both to the situation now and for the future,” he warned.

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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