Spring 2020 Flooding Insights

A brief insight report from the RMC Group to inform and prepare areas at risk against seasonal and extended flooding potentials in 2020.

With 2019 setting the record for the wettest 12-month-period documented in U.S. history that led to many significant flooding incidents,1 what does 2020 have in store for the Midwest and beyond? Weather trends over the past few years have favored conditions that needed only a typical season’s rainfall to trigger flooding, or in the case of 2019, triggering major flooding events with the heightened rates of precipitation. Every business, community, and even policy writer can and should be taking extra precautions to ward against potential losses, no matter the outlook. In this report, you‘ll find information that the RMC Group has compiled from trusted sources to form our Spring 2020 Flooding Insights, giving you a glimpse at what to expect ahead.

2019 In Review

Looking back at the events leading up to generating what some called "The Great Flood of 2019" (2) with prolonged events throughout the year, the Spring of 2019 set the stage for flooding early on. The wettest recorded January-to-May period was due to a combination of several factors, highlighted by highly-saturated soil levels, temperature fluctuations, and additional snowpack in the upper Mississippi River Basin.

These conditions were precedented by above-average rain and snow precipitation in late 2018, lifting the drought from Western states while keeping the ground moist throughout the Midwest and East Coast. A "reported 200 percent above normal" rainfall in areas North of the Mississippi River Basin elevated flood risk drastically, compounded with extra runoff from melting snowpack as a result of the warmer-than-average temperatures across the country (3). Combined, these factors were the primary contributors to over 40 locations setting new record highs for river levels in mid-March (4).

The continued barrage of storms and heavy rain inundated the Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers, causing a widespread catastrophe that persisted even into late December of 2019. This record-breaking year of flooding events caused an estimated $20.0 billion in damages, which was near half of the year's total climate disaster damages (5).

Climatology Comparison

By correlating current climatology conditions with those of years prior, a new flood risk outlook for 2020 can be developed, and one that eerily echoes that of 2019's climate conditions. When developing this outlook, the main components observed are soil moisture, drought, snowpack, frost depth, streamflow, and precipitation (6). For 2020, soil moisture levels remain high in the 90 to 99th percentiles for most regions of the Midwest and Eastern Coast, and several river levels are still running high from the near to above average winter rainfall. Snowpack in Northern regions of the Mississippi River Basin are lighter when compared with last year but could be of alarm if melting occurs in concert with heavy rain (7). 

Fortunately, the outlook isn't entirely bleak. A large portion of the ground has already thawed surrounding Northern rivers, which reduces the streamflow capacity for rainfall and snowmelt. Snowpack is still concentrated in some areas, most specifically in the northern half of the upper Mississippi River watershed (but not as heavily from last year's reported conditions). The overall determining factors for significant flooding will be how fast soil moisture levels will drop and the intensity of rainfall.

Precipitation Outlook

As the leading assessable metric for flooding risks in 2020, rainfall throughout Spring will decide whether soil moisture and river levels dissipate or persist. This past year saw between above-average to much-above-average rainfall across most of the U.S., whereas this year is forecasted to have high precipitation as well but in more concentrated areas. The Midwest, East Coast, and some Southern states are expected to receive rates of 33% to 50% above average precipitation, and states along the West Coast are likely to see much lower than average (8).

If rainfall remains steady without a chance for the groundwaters to dry up, areas surrounding the upper to middle Mississippi river basin, upper Missouri river basin, and Red River of the North will be at major risks for flooding. Temperatures this Spring are predicted to be warmer, which can help in reducing soil moisture but will also increase snowmelt in the upper Mississippi river basin, causing major flooding threats when paired with heavy rainfall. A bulk of the Midwest is anticipated to see minor flooding to some extent, with moderate risks primarily in the central to southeastern states. While the chances are high, it should be noted the current climate predictions do not foresee flooding to the extreme as experienced in 2019.

Preparing For The Future

The key takeaway should be that areas prone to flooding will take the events of 2019 as the most recent worst-case scenario, and prepare accordingly. Increased precipitation rates are highly likely across Midwest, East Coast, and some Southern states, mixed with already saturated soil levels and high running rivers. It is expected that economic losses will result from flooding along major rivers, with added moderate threats throughout several central and southeastern states.

Preparing ahead for a loss can be complicated, but even more complex than handling a true loss. When experts are needed for proactive and reactive results regarding flooding or any other types of losses, look no further than the experts at RMC Group. We consider all aspects from immediate property damages to long-term economic losses, ensuring adequate coverages, and that the best interests of the insured are met. With professionals in all fields of practice, you can rest assured we've got the right expert for you. Report your assignment or contact us for general insights at newloss@rmcteam.com

Sources

  • (1) NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, U.S. has its wettest 12 months on record – again
  • (2) The New York Times, September 11, 2019 - The Great Flood of 2019: A Complete Picture of a Slow-Motion Disaster
  • (3) NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Spring Outlook: Historic, widespread flooding to continue through May
  • (4) The Weather Channel, Record Flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois Follows Snowmelt, Bomb Cyclone
  • (5) NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: National Climate Report for Annual 2019
  • (6) NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, U.S. Spring Outlook forecasts another year of widespread river flooding
  • (7) NWS National Wheather Service, 2020 Spring Flood Outlook
  • (8) NWS National Wheather Service, Color Monthly & Seasonal Outlooks