Articles | Volume 17, issue 12
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2199–2211, 2017
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2199–2211, 2017

Research article 08 Dec 2017

Research article | 08 Dec 2017

Climate change impacts on flood risk and asset damages within mapped 100-year floodplains of the contiguous United States

Cameron Wobus1, Ethan Gutmann2, Russell Jones1, Matthew Rissing1, Naoki Mizukami2, Mark Lorie1, Hardee Mahoney1, Andrew W. Wood2, David Mills1, and Jeremy Martinich3 Cameron Wobus et al.
  • 1Abt Associates, 1881 Ninth Street, Suite 201, Boulder, CO 80302, USA
  • 2National Center for Atmospheric Research, 3450 Mitchell Lane, Boulder, CO 80301, USA
  • 3US Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Division, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20460, USA

Abstract. A growing body of work suggests that the extreme weather events that drive inland flooding are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude in a warming climate, thus potentially increasing flood damages in the future. We use hydrologic projections based on the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) to estimate changes in the frequency of modeled 1 % annual exceedance probability (1 % AEP, or 100-year) flood events at 57 116 stream reaches across the contiguous United States (CONUS). We link these flood projections to a database of assets within mapped flood hazard zones to model changes in inland flooding damages throughout the CONUS over the remainder of the 21st century. Our model generates early 21st century flood damages that reasonably approximate the range of historical observations and trajectories of future damages that vary substantially depending on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pathway. The difference in modeled flood damages between higher and lower emissions pathways approaches USD 4 billion per year by 2100 (in undiscounted 2014 dollars), suggesting that aggressive GHG emissions reductions could generate significant monetary benefits over the long term in terms of reduced flood damages. Although the downscaled hydrologic data we used have been applied to flood impacts studies elsewhere, this research expands on earlier work to quantify changes in flood risk by linking future flood exposure to assets and damages on a national scale. Our approach relies on a series of simplifications that could ultimately affect damage estimates (e.g., use of statistical downscaling, reliance on a nationwide hydrologic model, and linking damage estimates only to 1 % AEP floods). Although future work is needed to test the sensitivity of our results to these methodological choices, our results indicate that monetary damages from inland flooding could be significantly reduced through substantial GHG mitigation.

Short summary
We linked modeled changes in the frequency of historical 100-year flood events to a national inventory of built assets within mapped floodplains of the United States. This allowed us to project changes in inland flooding damages nationwide under two alternative greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions scenarios. Our results suggest that more aggressive GHG reductions could reduce the projected monetary damages from inland flooding, potentially saving billions of dollars annually by the end of the century.
Final-revised paper