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This online tool can tell you if your home is likely to flood this hurricane season

August 26, 2020, 8:12 PM UTC

Hurricane Laura is on its way to the Gulf Coast of the United States, and homeowners in the area would be wise to wonder just how at risk they are of flooding.

A new(ish) tool aims to help. Two months ago the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research firm, launched a website offering flood risk data on more than 142 million properties across the U.S. (It also offered what it dubbed “the first national flood risk assessment,” with sobering findings.) This week, one of the most popular websites for browsing American real estate, added that information to its listings.

It’s long overdue. Real estate destinations including Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia will tell you how many bathrooms a property has, provide walkability scores for the surrounding neighborhood, and estimate mortgage payments. But easily found flood risk information has largely been absent from such services.

Here’s an example of the tool in action on a million-dollar property in flood-prone Beverly Hills, Calif.

First Street is based in (sometimes) flood-prone Brooklyn, and led by Matthew Eby, a former marketing executive for the Weather Company among others. He argues that flooding is the most expensive natural disaster in the United States, yet most Americans don’t have access to property-level information that helps them understand the risk of their homes. The organization’s many researchers combine actual and projected climate data with rainfall and other factors for a more granular and dynamic look at flood risk than is available from government sources.

According to its research, 14.5 million American properties—far more than the 9 million specified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA—are at substantial risk of flooding. To boot, many lack flood insurance.

Though First Street offers its findings free to the public, the organization makes money by selling its information to mortgage companies, insurers, and other real estate players—including Fire and drought risk are the next likely phenomena to get the organization’s attention. (And not a moment too soon.)

Could a little more information help calm this year’s turbulent real estate market? Perhaps. But as data science continues making inroads into climate science and insurance alike, it’s only natural for some of it to show up in tools that regular people can use.