Updated on 06.04.13

Update on the Flooding in Iowa … And Some Tips on Protecting Yourself

Trent Hamm

Hundreds of people have emailed me asking questions about the current flooding situation in Iowa. Has my home been affected? How bad is it really?

Well, I’ll let the front page of the Des Moines Register speak for itself.

Where I’m at (luckily), there’s been only minor ill effect. We’ve had some minor flash flooding in our back yard, but nothing disastrous (other than some depressing garden damage – I don’t think the rosemary and other herbs will recover). Our basement water pump has been running almost nonstop for the last two weeks. Many cornfields near my house (including the one I can see out of my back door to the east) are partially or entirely covered in water, however. Road travel in Des Moines is very challenging right now, with many, many roads closed.

I have family in northern Iowa that are being seriously affected by this flooding, and I have a lot of family in southern Iowa and western Illinois that are going to be affected by this in a week, when the high water that’s currently in northern Iowa will have reached them. Here’s the data I’m looking at that will be affecting them soon.

Part of the challenge for Iowa is that a large portion of the Iowa National Guard is stationed overseas, making it difficult for the remaining Guard to respond effectively to local emergencies like this.

What Can I Do To Protect Myself?

Know your flood risk Use floodsmart.gov to find out if the property you live in now (or a property you’re considering buying) is a significant flood risk. My area, unfortunately, isn’t covered by that web site (as of just a few years ago, my home was classified as farmland, so the data hasn’t been updated), so my next step was to contact the FEMA Map Service Center to find out my risk. I have a small risk for flash flooding, but minimal risk for river flooding, which was about what I expected.

Determine your need for flood insurance If you’re in an area with some degree of flood risk, consult your homeowner’s insurance policy to find out what coverage you have in the event of a flash flood or a separate significant flood event. The Simple Dollar’s Randy Woods explains more about what’s covered in his homeowners guide. If you live in a flood plain that has flooded in the last thirty years or so, you should definitely have flood insurance.

Be aware of the flood control plan in your neighborhood or town if you do live in a flood plain. Know what rivers you should be watching and what signs you should be looking for that a flooding situation may be occurring. Contact city hall and ask if there is a flood control plan for your town and ask for a copy of it, so you’ll have an idea of what the “concern” levels are for the flood protection in your area.

What Can I Do To Help If I’m Not Affected?

Volunteer, if you can Many towns near major rivers in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin could definitely use sandbagging help. If you’re a college student off for the summer and would like a way to use your time to help people in need, contact the city hall or town hall in some of the towns in southern Iowa and western Illinois that lie along the Des Moines, Skunk, and Mississippi Rivers and volunteer to help in exchange for shelter and food. They’ll be glad to quickly find you a host family.

Consider what’s happened here as a part of who you vote for in November. The candidate who is putting resources into FEMA and the National Guard is the candidate that’s really interested in helping America out. Draw your own conclusions on which candidate that is for each office, but keep it in mind when you vote.

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  1. Jason S says:

    Hi, Trent~

    I live in Waterloo, went to college in Cedar Falls, and grew up in Coralville. All are getting pounded as I write this. Basically, every place I’ve lived is full of miserable people fighting that most implacable foe, water. But they’re also full of really helpful, hardworking people who are busting their butts trying to keep rivers out of each others’ basements and businesses.

    My family’s lucky–we live far from the Cedar River, which is invading downtown Waterloo. We still get water in our basement, but that’s on account of a leaky, 1925-era foundation trying to hold back a totally saturated yard.

    Bad news like this week’s disasters in Iowa are a big reason we’re trying to get out of debt. We can handle a catastrophe much better if we have an emergency fund and our incomes aren’t being snatched away by high-interest loans. We’re working toward those goals, and our neighbors’ miseries are a sobering reminder of why we make a lot of small, tough choices.

    Another reason: the more we have at our disposal, the more we have to give. And there are plenty of people who need help right down the street.

  2. Flooding is a horrible phenomenon and is striking areas now that were previously not considered at risk.
    Please be careful when choosing a flood insurance company and coverage and be sure to read your insurance policy wordings THOROUGHLY. Insurance companies are very particular about the policies and you should be well advised when purchasing property insurance.
    Just ask those folks in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

  3. china says:

    this is a good time to mention global warming

  4. Rob says:

    We’ve gotten about 2 inches in the last week (Chicago, western suburbs), but it’s been central Wisconsin and central Indiana hit the hardest. The seasons jumped from early Spring to mid-Summer in a week, and we’ve been a persistent wet pattern ever since.

    Ditto on the flood insurance… we have it, but that’s because we are in a flood zone. I don’t think our house will be carried away like the ones on Lake Delton were; more that the neighborhood would become a giant lake.

    So I wouldn’t blame this on global warming or Bush quite yet. But it’s a damn shame that the National Guard that has traditionally helped our localities is off fighting someone else’s war instead. Go Obama!

  5. Katy McKenna says:

    We’ve had it bad around KC, but nothing like you’ve got it in Iowa. Of course, lots of cresting has yet to happen.

    I would not be without flood insurance, or earthquake insurance, either. We live not too far from the New Madrid fault, and when it blows, it blows big. These additions to your homeowners are very cheap and would be considered valuable beyond belief should you incur a huge loss on your property.

    Prayers for all of you in Iowa!

  6. Scott says:

    I’m an insurance agent in Wisconsin, and I just wanted to make one comment. You advised that one should “consult your homeowner’s insurance policy to find out what coverage you have in the event of a flash flood or a separate significant flood event.” There’s no need — the simple answer is that your typical homeowner’s insurance policy provides NO flood insurance. You can purchase coverage for sewer backup/sump pump failure, but flooding of any type is simply not covered. The only remedy is a separate (and often expensive) flood insurance policy. Thanks for bringing attention to the issue, but I wanted to offer that clarification!

  7. Jason S says:

    I sympathize with your point of view, but I’m about 5 minutes from going the sandbagging station in Waterloo, and I don’t plan on making it a topic of conversation with my fellow workers. That’s a subject for the coffeehouse, the salon, the barstool, and the patio. Not where folks are hoisting hundreds of 75 lb sandbags. The notion of a “teachable moment” doesn’t really apply. In fact, in a rough’n’ready town like Waterloo, it might even get you in a scuffle.

    Which is not to say that climate change isn’t a worthy subject. Just pick your moments carefully.

  8. Frugal Dad says:

    Glad you have come through the flooding relatively unscathed – and I’m sorry to hear of the losses suffered by other Iowa residents. The floods combined with tornadoes we’ve had here in the south, and midwest, have made for some wicked weather to start this summer.

  9. Christy says:

    Thanks for keeping us posted on your welfare, frugal leader! I have family in the Midwest, fortunately not in harm’s way of floods right now (mid Missouri), and my heart goes out to people hoping their livelihood won’t be washed away. We get the benefit of hurricanes and tornadoes where I live in NC. In regard to the National Guard–many are overseas because we’re a peaceloving country without a large standing army, and no draft. Whether they stand in the way of harm from suicide bombers or floods, they have my gratitude!

  10. Heidi says:

    I’ve also lived in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City,and Des Moines. It breaks my heart to see so many landmarks I know and love under water.

    I just had dinner in downtown Des Moines and there are a lot of people sandbagging at the businesses on Court Ave and Principal Park right now. If I hadn’t been in office attire, I would have jumped in and helped again. I’ve decided I’m taking off work tomorrow to help.

    I sandbagged in Iowa City and St. Louis during the floods of ’93 (my church youth group sent a bus) – it’s not fun work, but these business and homeowners can use all the help they can get.

    Scott is absolutely right – chances are you don’t have flood insurance (most people don’t unless they are required by their mortgage lender to purchase it).

    Based on the little bit of water we had in our basement last weekend, I wouldn’t wish flooding on my worse enemy. What an smelly, awful mess.

  11. Andrew says:


    Thank you for the article. The severe wind and tornados that hit Omaha this past weekend did quite the damage. I had a lot of broken branch damage to my trees, luckily no house damage. I am going to help out about 28 blocks West from my house this weekend where an F2 went through a culdesac and leveled it.

    I know that home owner’s insurance REALLY REALLY helps, but still…what better time to have an emergency fund, huh??? What better time than now to take inventory of your things? What better time than now to get a water/fire proof safe or a safety deposit box at your bank???

  12. Kathy says:

    I have to leave a reply. I am horrified to see all the flooding in the midwest and the tornados in many other parts of our country. But I cannot let the ‘global warming’ comment go without a comment of my own. I live in Washington state, where we have had the coldest spring in decades and in fact had a foot of snow today on one our passes that is normally snow free by this time of the year. It was in the mid 30’s in Spokane today. The ice cutters in the artic that have gone into business to take all the people up to see the last of the arctic ice cannot get through the ice because it is the largest ice pack in years up there. Please, check your facts, we are in an El Nina weather pattern. This is a normal cycle of weather. The midwest floods about every decade. I wish you all well there. And to the person who thinks we are fighting someone else’s war with our national guard, were you alive in 2001 and have you watched anything but CNN on the T.V. since then. Lord help us all if Barrack Husein Obama is elected. All your frugal dollar savings will be gone in increased taxes in the blink of an eye…..and Lord help anyone who earns dividends or capital gains, gone too……but none of that will matter because we will all be too busy serving tea to the Iraninan dictator and all his cronies. Please do some research on the candidates before you decide to vote and don’t vote for a candidate just because he is a rock star in the media. Who is this guy and what has he done for you????? Look at his Senate record and please let me know if you find one. He hasn’t voted, he hasn’t taken a stand, hell, he can’t even carry on a conversation if it isn’t teleprompted for him ahead of time. And aren’t any of you Obama supporters afraid of someone who could be loyal to a church for 20 years that damns America???? Isn’t that scary for any of you. Do any of you have any values left?? I’m willing to listen to any reason, just one, solid reason to vote for this guy. I haven’t heard anything solid from him, from his supporters or from his record that leads me to believe that he could stand as President of our country. Not one, give me one.

  13. TParkerson says:

    As a professional Risk Manager in a municipality in a state that sits smack in the middle of the Gulf, I have to chime in to #2 Tyler and #6 Scott’s comments…go talk to your agent now about a flood policy and also a wind policy. But remember that there will be a waiting period for the flood policy to go into effect. We should all face the fact that as our valuables get more valuable, we will all likely face some kind of loss. My grandparents preached the value of insurance for as long as I can remember…it only takes one claim to know just how vulnerable you are.

    In my line of work, I have noticed a disturbing trend; somehow, we have given away our right to take care of “me and mine”. There seems to be a prevailing attitude that the government, at all it’s levels, will step in after some disaster to take care of us. After Hurricane Charley, and his evil brothers and sisters in 2004, my municipality was tasked with rebuilding almost 95% of our power grid to even be able to serve basic service to our customers…we had some outlying areas that were basically without power for nearly 6 weeks, me included! I could tell all you gentle readers some pretty amazing stories, both good and bad about those days…maybe I will write a book! My point is this, while I agree with Trent in theory that you should consider a candidate’s perspective on disaster management, THAT IN NO WAY ALLEVIATES YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TAKE CARE OF YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES!

    The older I get, the more I believe that our grandparents ( solidly conservative midwesterners, in my case…go Kansas!) were right, about alot of things!

    Hope everyone has a safe and thoughtful day…my thoughts and prayers to your loved ones and neighbors in the flooded areas, Trent.


  14. ckstevenson says:

    I’d like to add a way to help others: Donate blood. It’s always needed in a crisis, we almost always have a shortage, and it’s incredibly simple to do. Plus you get a free cookie.

  15. KoryO says:

    Well…in this part of Iowa….the Coralville Dam has been overrun, the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids has been evacuated, parts of the U of I are flooding, and the call has gone out for people to help fill sandbags.

    Please don’t give us a big lecture about “global warming” right now. It isn’t the right time or place for that (and considering the fact that this part of Iowa just had the coldest winter in most people’s living memory….you just might get knocked upside the head for it, and deservedly so.)

  16. Amanda B. says:

    I am an Obama supporter and have been before he was deemed a media darling. I would love to have a conversation about why I will be choosing him over John Sidney McCain (I don’t know what their full names have to do with it, I suppose with all the Barack Obamas running around, we have to be very specific). However, this is a personal finance blog and Trent said just take disaster relief into consideration. He didn’t say one way or the other, nor did he mention (in this article) his personal preference. If you would like to suggest a more appropriate setting for this conversation, I would gladly continue with it. On a somewhat personal finance note: If paying a little more in taxes will provide better relief to my fellow Americans, please tell me where to send my check. I will gladly let go of my premium cable channels if it would mean a safe temporary housing for the victims of natural disaster. But maybe that is just me.

  17. Jon says:

    “If paying a little more in taxes will provide better relief to my fellow Americans, please tell me where to send my check. I will gladly let go of my premium cable channels if it would mean a safe temporary housing for the victims of natural disaster. But maybe that is just me.”

    You seem to be very trusting of the government with your money. I don’t desire to give them another dime until they can prove fiscal responsibility with the thousands I already give them. There is already plenty there to provide safe temporary housing for victims if they would only stop spending our money on stupid stuff.

  18. Joe says:

    Many folks don’t realize that the consequence of global warming is not necessarily an increase in temperatures worldwide – global warming essentially disrupts the ‘natural’ climate making it rain/snow excessively or out of season.

    So for those who lament humorously that the winter is too cold and where is global warming, global warming might be causing the winter to be excessively cold.

  19. Amanda B. says:

    I wouldn’t say very trusting. That is why I like the 09.14.06 Coburn-Obama Transparency Bill which will force lawmakers to be accountable for their spending. I just think it is odd that we want the government to do all these things for us, but don’t want to pay taxes.

  20. Rob says:

    Oh wonderful. I love it when people try to preach governmental fiscal accountability at me when, during the past 8 years, we have managed to turn the first federal budget surplus in a generation into a significant federal deficit – under the GOP watch. Sorry. They don’t get to reap that reward anymore.

    By the way, it’s El Niño, and La Niña. Floods happen. Be prepared. The nation is less prepared now than it was 8 years ago. That’s the sad reality nowadays, and it will continue under John McCain.

  21. jm says:

    Here’s hoping you stay dry, Trent.

  22. mary says:

    i’m glad to hear you and your family are safe and relatively unharmed.

    of course, as i’m writing this we’re getting some torrential rain in the twin cities. nowhere near what you guys are, but it feels like we’re in the same boat.


  23. Jeff R says:

    Can’t we leave the politics out of this blog unless it is brought up by Trent and focus on the main gist of the articles?

    Everyone is entitled to their own political view, but not everyone will be interested in reading about it!

  24. Rob says:

    Yeah, I normally don’t even comment. :-D Personal finance and politics have little to do with each other.

    (By “little”, I mean almost nothing – nothing a potential future President Obama does will remove the $100,000 you’ve stocked away in the bank or however many millions you might have in a hedge fund. It’s just not going to happen.)

    Trent, you might want to have a whole post on home insurance vs. flood insurance vs. other riders that you might get on your house (that could just waste you money, if you don’t read the fine print). My bosses’ basement is leaking, and State Farm won’t cover it in spite of an extra “basement insurance” rider – that’s because the rider only covers instances where your basement is flooded, the sump pump failed, and the backup sump pump also fails.

    Now how often does that happen?

  25. Jenni says:

    In SD there are a lot of fisherman, and recreational enthusiasts, who have boats, that would help such situations. Red Cross from Sioux Falls headed down to that place in Iowa. We’ve been having flooding roads and other problems here too. My sister lives on the other side of a dip, where the road goes through, the dip, so she gets stuck, or has to find another way out. Luckily she lives on a hill, away from any water. But they have been getting a lot of rain, after the snow, so they are soggy. I will send this on to her anyway. Time to donate to Red Cross too. Since they always head out to such events.

  26. Jon says:

    “I just think it is odd that we want the government to do all these things for us, but don’t want to pay taxes.”

    I DON’T want the government to do all these things for me. I don’t want them to “help” me out in every aspect of my life. I think they should stay out of my life and be as small as possible. Aid and protection of the country is one thing. Needless time and money spent doing things that the private sector should be doing is quite another.

    “nothing a potential future President Obama does will remove the $100,000 you’ve stocked away in the bank or however many millions you might have in a hedge fund. It’s just not going to happen.”

    Right…except raise capital gains taxes and make “rich” people pay for everyone else. Politics and personal finance are very interconnected in my opinion. (I hope you were being sarcastic).

  27. Rob says:

    Ah, I see. In your America, Jon, you seem to think the poor people are getting all of ‘your’ money. Obviously, they’re living up life just like you are. They’re partying, being lazy, and just collecting checks.

    The thought of people working 80 hours to barely make ends me just doesn’t occur to you, does it? They should just keep pulling themselves up by their bootstraps harder, right? Or pick up a better job by getting an education that they can’t pay for? That’s pulling themselves up, right?

    Now, I don’t doubt that most of the government can’t spend any money reasonably. In fact, $23 billion just got lost the other day in Iraq, according to the BBC. So, I would imagine, a good short-term solution would be to punish the party that’s been most recently fiscally irresponsible with ‘your’ money, right?

    In this country, I don’t seem to recall any recent examples of the all-encompassing government redistribution of wealth that you fear, Jon. I don’t think government-backed gangs repo’d your property and fields recently, like they did in Zimbabwe. And I certainly don’t think the company you work for was forced to leave the country, to be replaced with a state-backed company, like in Venezuela. In fact, so far as I can tell, the Kennedys, Hiltons, Marshall Fields, and Rockefellers of times past are doing just fine now (as long as they haven’t been stupid with their money, as Paris Hilton is about to be). I think the younger Waltons are doing quite all right as well. In fact, now there’s new generations of Buffetts and Gates’ in the country too.

    So please, Jon, let me know: just what are you whining about?

  28. Julie says:

    Hi Trent. I read your blog and find it very helpful. I am in Burlington, Iowa. We are waiting for the water to come up. Thanks for the data! We have Steamboat Days right now on the riverfront and it looks like this weekend’s festivities are really iffy. I can’t believe what is going on elsewhere though! We are pretty familiar with Cedar Rapids and I just can’t believe the photos of downtown Cedar Rapids on the Gazette’s web site. Our home is not threatened. I can’t imagine having your house flooded. What a horrible ordeal.

  29. Kathy says:

    You are right, it is La Nina. Thanks for the correction.

    Jon, you are right on.

  30. consumer says:

    A few weeks back my sibling in Cedar Falls watched as a tornado crossed the highway a 1/4 mile up from his house. This week he was ousted from his home because of the flooding. Fortunately, his house was safe from the water, but all the bridges and roads leading to his house were closed because of the flooding. He has been able to stay with another sibling, but it is a good example of what an Emergency Fund can be used for; a hotel stay for when you are displaced from your home.

  31. Hattie says:

    Hi Trent, I would like to know your take on peak oil and the coming collapse of our economy. Do we have a chance to avoid it? Thanks!

  32. Marla says:

    Looks like CA is being set up for a Katrina-like disaster.
    Residents of Fresno, CA are being annihilated as years of secret altering, re-routing and replacing sewer and water lines with corroded and clamped lines continues. With the financial and bank fraud, ID theft, as well as pillaging done ahead of time as described below, floods would further benefit those behind this operation. Massive cover-up.





    See how this ties into the previous link while keeping in mind this has taken place from one end of the city to the other:


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