Historic Flood Methodology

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Use Risk Factor to understand if a property has previously experienced flooding due to hurricanes, tropical storms, nor’easters, or overflowing rivers.

The First Street Foundation Flood Model has developed a method to recreate historic flood events. The model has recreated major historic floods caused by rivers and flooding associated with coastal storms like hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor’easters. The First Street Foundation Flood Model includes 55 major river and storm surge floods in the U.S. from 2001 on, and is continually adding more. Where possible, data has been validated against historic flood reports and FEMA flood claims. 

If a property was impacted by any of these historic floods, Risk Factor™ will show the name and date of the flood, the depth of water that reached the property, and the number of properties impacted in the city. 

Types of historic floods 

The First Street Foundation Flood Model has recreated 57 major historic floods, including both riverine floods as well as coastal floods associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor’easters. The floods are modeled simulations recreated and calibrated using recorded flood data and validated against known government flood claims. 


Rain flooding


Riverine flooding


Tidal flooding


Surge flooding 

While heavy rains are often associated with both types of flood events, they are not included as part of the recreated flood models.  The modeled historic floods only include storm surges from coastal events and only river overflows from inland events. The current flood methodology used does not allow for the recreation of flood events from heavy rains, and as such, events that contained a lot of rain may not look exactly as documented from other sources.

Historical analyses

The First Street Foundation Flood Model has developed a method to recreate historic flooding events. The model has been used to recreate both riverine flooding events as well as the flooding associated with coastal storms like hurricanes, tropical storms, and nor’easters. To create the catalog of events, First Street relied on hydrologic models and public data sources detailing the impacts of flooding.  Many of these methods were first tested and validated against remotely sensed satellite imagery of existing water after flooding events to validate methods for accuracy.

River flooding events are recreated by analyzing historic USGS stream gauge readings during the periods associated with identified flood events. The historic simulations are then evaluated for correlation between recorded high water marks and insurance claims of flooding made during the event.  Major coastal flooding events are recreated through a combination of ADCIRC+SWAN modeling and geospatial analyses based on specific storm characteristics, such as Hurricane Katrina, and then compared to the terrain of the area using a digital elevation model. These recreations are then compared to recorded high water marks and calibrated to align with those observed water depths.  In the recreation of both riverine and coastal surge events, comparisons against the First Street adaptation database are performed to see if there are any flood control structures in the extent of the model to accurately account for known protections against historic flooding events.

Historic floods on Risk Factor

Currently, locations on Risk Factor only show information for the recreated historic floods that likely impacted them. Properties are considered to have been impacted by a historic flood if its modeled recreation indicates that flood water reached the largest building on the property or if there are no buildings, the center of the property lot. Neighborhoods, zip codes, cities, and counties are considered to have been impacted by a historic flood if any of the properties within their boundaries were impacted.

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Provide past flooding information

The historic flood information shown on Risk Factor is not comprehensive and does not include heavy rains. However, individuals are encouraged to share information if they know a location has flooded in the past, as this information will help improve the historic flood models and may be added to the database and shown on Risk Factor in the future.

Want access to our historic flood data?

For commercial use or non-profits, academics, or public sector professionals needing data at a property level, First Street Foundation® provides access to property-level data for purchase, which includes property-level risk statistics about modeled historic events. Bulk data is available for easy integration for flood risk statistics. 

If you are interested you can get pricing for property data here and fill out the following form to complete a request. For multiple states, nationwide data, or partnership requests, you can fill out the form here. We will get back to you with pricing or access information based on your request

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