Virginia Flood Awareness Week runs through March 18. Throughout the week, the Department of Emergency Management and Security and regional partners have increased efforts to educate and provide residents with property resiliency and flood plan guidance.
Floods, the most common and costly natural disaster, threaten any area that gets rainfall and kills more people than tornadoes, hurricanes, or lightning annually, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Densely populated areas like Fairfax County have a higher risk of flash flooding–a phenomenon that occurs within six hours of an event that generates significant flood waters, such as a thunderstorm.
Fairfax County’s average population growth of 1.43 percent annually since 2009 and an increased number of buildings, highways, and parking structures to house and support this population, the amount of rainwater that can be absorbed into the ground is reduced.
With continued population growth and increasing annual precipitation, Dulles Airport averages 43 inches, while Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport averages 42 inches. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation cautions that only one inch of water can cause more than $25,000 worth of damage. Even so, only 3 percent of Virginians have flood insurance. With spring quickly approaching, guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program notes that spring storms can result in severe flooding.
Residents who think that their property and belongings are protected through homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may be surprised to learn that these policies typically do not cover flood damage. Furthermore, about one in four flood insurance claims come from moderate-to-low-risk areas. The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and other agencies urge homeowners to learn about flood risks, remediation, and flood insurance.
The DPWES estimates that annual flood insurance in Fairfax county costs between $400 and $1,000; however, depending on factors like location and property size, premiums can be substantially higher. Residents can use the Digital Flood Insurance Rate Map to identify watersheds, perennial streams, and FEMA Flood Hazard Areas. Additionally, the DPWES website states that “it takes 30 days for flood insurance policies to go into effect, [so] it’s important to plan ahead.”
Regional partners from the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Arlington County, and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission hosted a series of webinars titled “Understanding Your Flood Risk,” “How to Reduce Your Flood Risk,” and “How to Protect Yourself Against Floods.” Webinars will be available on the DPWES YouTube channel and website. These information sessions feature subject matter experts like Fairfax County Stormwater Emergency Manager Chase Suddith and the City of Alexandria Senior Civil Engineer Brian Rahal, PE, CFM.
“Flooding is increasing; you’re not imagining it. We have seen an increase in flooding and rainfall rates in Virginia. Sometimes we can get a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours. On July 8, 2019, a thunderstorm dumped four to five inches [of rain] in Northern Virginia and the immediate D.C. Metro area during the morning rush hour. The torrential downpour led to sinkholes, road washouts, and dozens of water rescues and flooded homes and businesses. The flash flood caused more than $14M in damages in Fairfax county alone. That kind of flash flooding can happen again,” said Suddith.
In addition to the webinars, residents are encouraged to take preventive measures like cleaning gutters and downspouts, clearing storm drains and installing sanitary sewer backflow valves to prevent sewer backup. Additionally, contacting an insurance agent or visiting FloodSmart.gov can help residents to make the most informed decision to protect their property.
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