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Sept. 21, 2020, 11:37 a.m. EDT

These are the 10 most flood-prone counties in the U.S.

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By Erica Sweeney

Owning a beachfront home is a seductive dream for many Americans. Dramatic or serene ocean views right outside your living room! Communities offering up a relaxed or high-energy way of life—your pick! Heaping, fresh seafood platters and frosty margaritas by the water. Hey, what’s not to love?

Plenty, in fact. Sorry to intrude on the fantasy, but living near the water comes with some very real risks: the ongoing threat of destructive storms and regular flooding that can range from costly to catastrophic. And the worst of these dangers seems to be escalating.

In the past two months alone, the nation has been been hit by not one but two major storms: Hurricanes Laura and Sally bringing destruction and death to large swaths of the coastal U.S. And there were five more storm systems moving through the Atlantic Ocean as of Friday—only the second time in history that so many have been tracked at the same time.

That’s why the team at realtor.com® decided it was time to take the high ground to find which counties in the U.S. have the greatest flood risks. Because while these areas are often rich in natural beauty and other attractions, those considering buying homes in these places should understand how their properties could be affected.

“The landfall of Hurricane Sally on the Alabama coast was just the latest exclamation point in what is turning out to be a record active-storm season in the Atlantic [Ocean],” says Danny Brouillette, a research climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University in State College.

“Climate change [is] causing tropical cyclones to be more slow-moving. … Paired with the increased water content of air as it grows warmer, it’s a recipe for more [storms] that produce extremely prolific rainfall that causes flooding, both at the coast and inland,” says Brouillette. “And increased sea levels due to climate change will tend to worsen flooding from storm surge near the coast.”

Floods are the most common weather-related natural disaster in the U.S., according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Despite the increasing risks, homeowners continue to be drawn to homes in some of the most flood-prone areas, such as beach communities on the shore of the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. But folks looking for property inland shouldn’t ignore the risks there either.

“It’s a risk that an inexperienced buyer could easily overlook, says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com, “such as in a home that is relatively lower-lying than its neighbors, but nowhere near a body of water.”

Just over half of home shoppers would still consider buying a home even if they know it’s in a flood zone, according to a recent realtor.com report on flood risk. But about 40% of those buyers expect a discount on the home price.

To come up with our ranking, our data team combined First Street Foundation’s flood data with realtor.com’s property data. The team analyzed factors that contribute to flooding, including tides, rain, and storm surge. It also looked at the impact of environmental changes, like sea-level risk, changing precipitation patterns, and warming atmospheric temperatures.

(Realtor.com recently teamed up with the foundation to display the flood risk of every property listed on the site. Listings display a flood factor, ranging from 1 to 10, provided by First Street.)

We selected one county per state with the most major to extreme flood risk and included only the counties with at least 100,000 residents. So what are the areas in the U.S. at greatest risk?

1. Charlotte County, FL Median county home list price: $280,000* Most flood-prone ZIP Code in county: 33948 (Port Charlotte)

Much of Florida is technically in a high flood risk zone. (If we didn’t limit our criteria to just one county per state, Florida would dominate our rankings.) But, it’s also one of the country’s most desirable places to live with its 663 miles of prime beaches.

Charlotte County, in southwestern Florida on the Gulf Coast, attracts a variety of homeowners, including full-time residents and snowbirds who flock there in winter months.

“Even with the flood risk, Southwest Florida offers year-round great weather, more golf courses than any other place in the U.S., and some of the top-rated beaches in the country,” says Violetta Zalevskiy, a real-estate agent with Keller Williams in the area.

You pay a price for all that beauty. In 2004, Hurricane Charley devastated the Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda areas, wiping out about half of Charlotte County’s roughly 12,000 homes. The county was hit with flooding and damage again in 2017’s Hurricane Irma, although not nearly as bad.

Properties in Charlotte County are dominated by single-family homes, condos, and villas. A lake-view condo with two bedrooms and two baths is going for $119,900. A brand-new, three-bedroom home with a lanai is listed at $288,000.

2. Terrebonne Parish, La. Median county home list price: $198,100 Most flood-prone ZIP Code in county: 70343 (Bourg)

Terrebonne Parish is known as Louisiana’s “Bayou Country” on the Gulf of Mexico. A little over an hour southwest of New Orleans, the county is home to vast wetlands, lakes, bays, bayous, and canals, along with wildlife preserves, oyster beds, and a rich Cajun culture.

The whole area mostly comprises water and wetlands, with the highest point just 13 feet above sea level. The coastal parish is regularly in the path of major storms, including Katrina in 2005. Most recently, Hurricane Laura last month caused damage and flooding.

Still, residents are attracted by the commercial fishing and the oil and gas industries, and low cost of living. In Houma, the parish seat, there are mostly single-family homes for sale, including this 2,400-square-foot home with a large backyard for $213,000. In Bourg, a little closer to the coast, this 7,000-square-foot home with extra storage and workshop spaces is going for $327,000.

3. Beaufort County, S.C. Median county home list price: $429,100 Most flood-prone ZIP Code in county: 29928 (Hilton Head Island)

Hilton Head Island, located in Beaufort County, is renowned for its sandy beaches, resorts, multitude of golf courses, and subtropical heat. It has a booming tourism industry that inspires many visitors to invest in vacation homes.

The downside: Beaufort County is located in the state’s Lowcountry. Every few years, a hurricane makes landfall along this part of the coast, often causing damage from storm surges. And the low-lying landscape makes the county frequently vulnerable to floods. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused more than $57 million in damages.

Nonetheless, homes in Hilton Head Island have a median list price of $495,000. But deals can be found: This furnished, newly renovated condo located in a resort with a golf course and lagoon views is listed at $249,900.

4. Galveston County, Texas Median county home list price: $305,100 Most flood-prone ZIP Code in county: 77554 (Galveston Island)

Located in southeastern Texas along the Gulf Coast, Galveston County often takes the brunt when a major storm hits. The area was devastated in 1900 by the deadliest hurricane in American history, which left 6,000 people dead. More recently, the city saw flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Still, Galveston is a “dreamy” place to live with friendly people, beaches, a great nightlife, and beautiful weather, says Johell Aponte, property specialist with Move On House Buyers.

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