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The effect of El Nino on flood damages in the western United States

TitleThe effect of El Nino on flood damages in the western United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsCorringham T.W, Cayan DR
Date Published2019/07
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1948-8327
Accession NumberWOS:000468466400002
Keywordsclimate; Economic value; enso; enso influence; Environmental Sciences & Ecology; events; flood; hydrologically based dataset; Insurance; intraseasonal extreme rainfall; land-surface fluxes; Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences; precipitation events; Seasonal forecasting; Social Science; southern-oscillation; temperature frequencies; trends; variability

This paper quantifies insured flood losses across the western United States from 1978 to 2017, presenting a spatiotemporal analysis of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) daily claims and losses over this period. While considerably lower (only 3.3%) than broader measures of direct damages measured by a National Weather Service (NWS) dataset, NFIP insured losses are highly correlated to the annual damages in the NWS dataset, and the NFIP data provide flood impacts at a fine degree of spatial resolution. The NFIP data reveal that 1% of extreme events, covering wide spatial areas, caused over 66% of total insured losses. Connections between extreme events and El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that have been documented in past research are borne out in the insurance data. In coastal Southern California and across the Southwest, El Nino conditions have had a strong effect in producing more frequent and higher magnitudes of insured losses, while La Nina conditions significantly reduce both the frequency and magnitude of losses. In the Pacific Northwest, the opposite pattern appears, although the effect is weaker and less spatially coherent. The persistent evolution of ENSO offers the possibility for property owners, policy makers, and emergency planners and responders that unusually high or low flood damages could be predicted in advance of the primary winter storm period along the West Coast. Within the 40-yr NFIP history, it is found that the multivariate ENSO index would have provided an 8-month look-ahead for heightened damages in Southern California.

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