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Floods Explained: From River to Coastal Flooding and Beyond

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

From River to Coastal Flooding and Beyond

No matter how the standing water gets there, flooding is a hindrance and hazard we’d all like to avoid. It’s helpful to understand the three most common types of flooding that can impact home and business owners. While there may be no way to stop the water from coming, it could help property owners recognize and possibly mitigate their risk exposure.

Riverine (Fluvial) Flooding

First, let’s look at inland flooding. According to FEMA, riverine flooding is the most commonly occurring type of flood. It is triggered when excessive runoff from rainfall or snowmelt overwhelms a river’s capacity causing water to overtake the flood plain. These floods are capable of generating widespread destruction and can be dangerous for those who live near rivers and dams.

In 2019, the overladen Mississippi River swelled above its banks, causing record setting flooding throughout the Midwest. The flooding stretched through 11 states and amassed roughly $20 billion in damages.

Coastal Flooding

Coastal floods, as you would expect, occur when normally dry coastal land becomes inundated with seawater. This happens most frequently when strong storm winds generate powerful waves and push water inland. Coastal floods can cause tremendous damage, including beach erosion, severe property damage and the shutdown of roads.

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel struck and caused several million dollars in damages. In North Carolina, destruction from coastal flooding was significant. Storm surge, along with high winds generated by Isabel, damaged thousands of homes and caused more than 700,000 residents to lose power. The storm also caused catastrophic beach erosion in the Chesapeake Bay and led to $84 million in damages to shoreline structures.

Pluvial Floods

Finally, pluvial floods can pose a threat to property owners as well. These surface floods do not originate from a body of water but are instead created when there is so much rainfall that oversaturated ground and drainage systems can’t contain it all. Because they are not fueled by nearby bodies of water, pluvial floods can strike anywhere.

Hurricane Harvey was one of the most damaging hurricanes of the 21st century. Though we typically associate hurricanes with coastal flooding, Harvey produced severe pluvial flooding in Texas that generated roughly $125 billion in damages.

Regardless of your geography, flood season never truly ends, as anywhere across the country at any time, your home or business could be struck by a dangerous storm. Whether it be from riverine, coastal or pluvial flooding, nearly all properties will have some level of flood risk, making it all the more important to better understand your flood risk exposure and secure your property with flood insurance as soon as possible.


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