The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported Feb. 16 that there has been a significant increase in the number of residents in California who have purchased flood insurance. The agency believes that the increase was likely driven by the recent El Nino conditions.
According to FEMA’s data, insurers have written over 55,000 new policies since Aug. 31—a 25% increase over the previous year’s figure.
Last December, the number of new policies peaked at a record 27,000. Officials stated that they had not seen such a surge since the National Flood Insurance Program was formed in 1968.
Currently, California has more than 285,000 flood insurance policies through the National Flood Insurance Program, as of Dec. 31. Nationally, there are approximately 5.1 million policies.
Mary Simms, a spokeswoman for FEMA, suggested that the increase was due to the greater awareness of El Nino. The agency did not report policy increases in other states affected by El Nino.
Simms also stressed that flooding is the country’s top natural disaster threat in both costs and fatalities. She said that 2,000 square foot home with six inches of water could rack up as much as $39,000 in damages.
Storms exacerbated by El Nino struck parts of California last January. The weather conditions were so severe that San Francisco’s cable cars had to halt operations and the east end of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles was heavily inundated.
February was a lot drier and hotter than January, but forecasters predict that it could rain again soon. Supposedly, a weather pattern change will occur by the end of the month could bring about more storms into the region by March.
"It has not been uncommon during past strong El Nino events to go through drier periods, even during the winter months," said National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Carpenter.
Emergency management experts urged the public to prepare and plan ahead to mitigate the risks posed by flooding. Residents should stock up on potable water and sandbags in case of flooding. Families should come up with a clear evacuation plan. Homeowners should document their properties and belongings with a camera—a smartphone with a video function would be handy in a pinch.