Flood Preparedness

Excluding fire, floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters. Most communities experience some kind of flooding after spring rains, heavy thunderstorms or winter snow thaw. Dam failures can also produce flooding. Flash floods result from intense storms dropping large amounts of rain within a brief period with little or no warning. Since 1900, floods have killed more than 10,000 people throughout the United States. Four people died in Roanoke as a result of flooding in 1985 and countless numbers of people have been rescued from floodwaters in the City of Roanoke throughout the years.

Most of the severe flooding in Roanoke occurs along the following 13 major creeks and rivers: Barnhardt (or Cravens) Creek, Garnand Branch, Glade Creek,Gum Spring, Lick Run, Mudlick Creek, Murdock Creek, Murray Run, Ore Branch, Peters Creek, Roanoke River, Tinker Creek and Trout Run. The flooding of November 1985 was the worst of record on the Roanoke River and many of the above tributaries. It was a reminder of the danger and damage that can result from widespread heavy rainfall in our community. The most recent significant flooding event in September 2004 caused more than $14 million in property damage in the Roanoke Valley. Because of the mountainous terrain throughout the Roanoke Valley, flooding on all of the creeks except the Roanoke River usually occurs quickly and with high velocities.

Since the Roanoke River drains a much larger area than any of the other creeks in Roanoke, its flood waters rise slower and are more easily predicted in advance. To aid in this prediction, the city maintains a number of rainfall and stream gauges as far away as Blacksburg. These gauges allow officials to predict when and how high flooding will be along the Roanoke River. Flooding along the Roanoke River can typically be predicted 6 to 12 hours before it occurs, and warning information will be broadcast over local radio and television stations. In the event of heavy rainfall, tune in to local radio news station WFIR AM 960, or other local radio or television stations to listen for flood warnings in your area

The City of Roanoke is committed to protecting people and their property from floods, as well as helping reduce rates that its citizens pay for flood insurance. This website provides important information on flooding hazards, and can also help qualify all city residents for a reduction in flood insurance rates. Please read and share appropriate information and safety tips with all members of your household. If you have any questions, please call the Stormwater Division
at 540-853-5900.

Flood Zone Information and Flood Insurance

Standard homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover losses due to flooding. The City of Roanoke participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which makes it possible for Roanoke property owners of obtain federally-backed flood insurance. This insurance is available to any owner of insurable property (buildings and/or contents) in Roanoke. The average annual premium for this insurance on a residential home is about $1600. The actual cost will vary depending on the amount of coverage and the degree of flood hazard. This insurance is required to purchase a home within or near the FEMA floodplain with a federally backed mortgage. 

If you are considering flood insurance, constructing a new building, or adding to an existing building, you may need to know if your property is located within a floodplain. For any property located in the City of Roanoke, the Stormwater Division will provide the following information based on the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM):

  • Flood Zone and Floodway Determinations,
  • Base Flood Elevations (BFEs),
  • FIRM and Panel numbers,
  • Elevation Certificates (if available),
  • Information on areas with Natural Floodplain Functions, and
  • Information on local drainage problems.

This information, as well as the FIRM zone, community number, panel number, FIRM date and elevation datum used on the FIRM is also available by using the city's Geographic Information System (GIS). The map information provided by the City is general in nature and is not considered a “guaranteed” determination. The mortgage lender is responsible for determining if a flood insurance policy is required for a loan. 

Property Protection

There are various actions that you can take to reduce the flooding damage to your home or business. Electrical panels, furnaces, water heaters, and washers/dryers should be elevated or relocated to an area less likely to be flooded. Basement floor drains and backwater prevention valves can be installed and interior floodwalls can be placed around utilities. If flooding is likely, and time permits, move essential items and furniture to the upper floors of your home. Keep materials like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber handy for emergency waterproofing. These actions will help minimize the amount of damage caused by floodwaters. The Office of the City Engineer maintains data on historic flooding elevations on various channels. The Stormwater Division is available to provide advice on flooding, drainage and storm drain problems. The Department of Planning, Building and Development is available to provide advice on retrofitting or modifying buildings to protect them from flooding.

Drainage Maintenance

The city of Roanoke is drained by a combination of underground pipes and open ditches. Maintenance of these systems is very important. Depositing trash, grass clippings, branches, leaves, or soil in a storm drain, pipe, or ditch obstructs the flow of water, which can cause flooding of roads and private property. It is the responsibility of all property owners to keep ditches on private property clear and cleaned of debris. If you know of any unapproved filling or rerouting of streams or ditches, please contact the Department of Planning, Building and Development at 540-853-1730.

Natural Functions

Under natural conditions, a flood causes little or no damage. Nature ensures that floodplain flora and fauna can survive the most frequent flooding. Natural areas (those without development) help reduce our flood damage by allowing flood waters to spread over a large area. This reduces water velocities and provides flood storage to reduce peak flows downstream.  When natural areas are developed, flood velocities and flood risk increase for the area.  It is our job to preserve natural areas in the floodplain whenever possible. The city has adopted ordinances to reduce future development in our natural floodplain areas. The city also has an ongoing commitment to work with its surrounding jurisdictions because of the impact that development in these areas has on flooding throughout the Roanoke Valley.

Permit Requirements

Always verify Department of Planning, Building and Development before you build, re-grade, or fill on your property. A special permit is required for any activity occurring within a floodplain area. New buildings in the floodplain must be protected from flood damage. Our building code requires that new buildings or ‘substantial improvements’ to existing buildings must be constructed with the lowest floor elevated or floodproofed to a minimum of two feet above the base flood elevation. A substantial improvement is any repair, reconstruction, or improvement of a structure, the cost of which equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of that structure.

Flood Mitigation Projects

The City of Roanoke remains very committed to the reduction of flood hazards. Many mitigation projects have specifically targeted repetitive loss homes.  Since 1997, the city has purchased 50 homes that have experienced repetitive flood damage. The homes have been removed, and the lots will remain vacant and maintained in perpetuity. The city has also upgraded many storm drains and bridges to more quickly drain stormwater during heavy rains. In conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, the city has completed the Roanoke River Flood Reduction Project which will also reduce flooding and risk for some properties along the Roanoke River.  These improvements will decrease flooding from smaller, more frequent rainfalls; however, it will not protect against larger floods like that which occurred in 1985. 

The city continues to monitor and mitigate stormwater and flooding problems within its limits. If you are aware of a problem, or a potential problem, please notify the Stormwater Division at 540-853-5900.

Links to Additional Information

 Flood Preparation Information 

For information on flood warnings and current river levels in your area, see the following websites:

National Weather Service 

Automated Flood Warning System 

Virginia IFLOWS 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Information

FEMA on the Web
FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program website and www.floodsmart.gov  provide information on how to obtain flood insurance and what damages are covered. They also give information on the latest flood disasters and how you can prepare for or reduce future flooding damage to your property by retrofitting or floodproofing your home or business.

FEMA by Phone
For information on Flood Insurance Rate Maps, call toll-free 877-336-2627.
For general flood insurance information, call toll-free 800-427-4661.
To order any current FEMA publications, call toll-free 800-480-2520.
For lender questions on flood policy coverage and rates, call toll-free 800-611-6125.
For agent questions on flood policy coverage and rates, call toll-free 800-720-1093.

The following labels are used to describe flood zones:

Floodway Areas where water is likely to be deepest and fastest. These areas are required to be kept free of obstructions. The city of Roanoke requires the submittal of engineering calculations before approving any filling or development in the floodway.
A Areas that are known to be flooded during very large storms occurring an average of every 100 years, but have no elevations determined.
AE Areas that are known to be flooded during very large storms occurring an average of every 100 years, and do have elevations determined. Elevation certificates are available for buildings in these areas.
X500 Areas that are known to be flooded during very large storms occurring an average of every 500 years, but have no elevations determined.
X Areas determined to be outside the 500-year floodplain.