FARGO — With so much snow already on the ground this winter, the Red River spring flooding outlook in the Fargo-Moorhead area is ominous, leading many to ask one big question: "Should I buy flood insurance?"

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question.

But insurance agents and others contacted by The Forum were of one mind: This might be a good year for every homeowner to buy flood insurance. At the very least, they said, residents should float the idea by their insurance agents, regardless of whether or not a residence is in the 100-year flood plain.

Here is how a number of insurance agents and local city and county officials responded to questions about flood insurance, with some editing for clarity.

When is flood insurance required?

Structures that have federally backed mortgages and that are in the 100-year flood plain are required to have flood insurance. Some mortgage lenders also require flood insurance be purchased.

How does flood insurance work?

Most flood insurance is tied to the National Flood Insurance Program, which is set up by the federal government. The program sets maximum payouts for damage to a structure at $250,000 and maximum payouts for loss of contents at $100,000. At that level of coverage, there is a $1,250 deductible for structural loss and a $1,250 deductible for loss of contents.

Red River floodwaters engulf two homes in March 2009 near Woodlawn Park in Moorhead. The photo looks east from Fargo as the river eclipsed its all-time high of 40.1 feet. Forum file photo
Red River floodwaters engulf two homes in March 2009 near Woodlawn Park in Moorhead. The photo looks east from Fargo as the river eclipsed its all-time high of 40.1 feet. Forum file photo

What if you have a home worth more than $250,000?

Policies can be purchased outside of the flood insurance program to cover potential losses over and above caps set by the federal program.

Should people with homes outside of the 100-year flood plain buy insurance?

Given the amount of moisture already in the ground and on the ground, it may be wise for all area homeowners to buy flood insurance, regardless of their distance from a river or stream, as precipitation and other hard-to-predict factors can play a major role in flooding.

How much does flood insurance cost?

For the maximum coverage noted above for federal flood insurance, the annual cost is about $550 for a primary home. If additional private insurance coverage is needed, the cost can be in the thousands.

What is covered with flood insurance?

Items like: furnaces; water heaters; washers and dryers; drywall; wiring; and plumbing. Flood insurance will also help homeowners pay for cleanup as well as mitigation costs, like sandbags and pumps.

What isn't covered?

Any detached structures, such as a garage or shop, require separate policies. Also, bikes, furniture and other items that are outside of a structure are not covered under a flood insurance policy. Things like cars and motorcycles usually have flood coverage as part of a comprehensive car insurance policy.

Thousands of sandbags line both sides of South River Road in Fargo in 1997 near Lindenwood Park as they wait to be transported to the nearby permanent earthen dike already in place along the Red River. Each pallet contained 60 to 70 sandbags. Forum file photo
Thousands of sandbags line both sides of South River Road in Fargo in 1997 near Lindenwood Park as they wait to be transported to the nearby permanent earthen dike already in place along the Red River. Each pallet contained 60 to 70 sandbags. Forum file photo

Bottom line, should people buy flood insurance this year?

Becky Rose, an insurance agent with Bell Insurance in downtown Fargo has handled flood insurance policies for many years. Rose advises that given a winter like this one, "Everybody's at risk; some are just at greater risk than others."

She added that if the area gets any kind of rain this spring, "we're going to get flooding in areas that normally never see water."

Nathan Boerboom, a division engineer with the city of Fargo, pointed out that at a recent meeting of community leaders, a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative said that in the Red River Valley, more than 40% of flood insurance claims are from areas outside the 100-year flood plain.

Boerboom said his own home in Fargo is not in the 100-year flood plain, but he nonetheless carries flood insurance on his house.

Christine Rasmussen, an American Family Insurance agent in Moorhead, had this observation:

"A flood could occur from heavy rains, overland flooding or a neighbor's above-ground pool that collapses and affects more than one property.

"In my opinion," Rasmussen added, "if someone wants to make sure they are covering their largest asset well, their home, they should take out flood insurance."

Are there online resources that show how a given property might fare given certain water levels?

Yes. FEMA has a website, msc.fema.gov, that will show whether a given address is in a known hazard area. Also, the city of Fargo website has a map feature that will show how a given address will fair given a specified river stage that can be found by visiting gis.cityoffargo.com/FloodStages/.

How soon should someone buy flood insurance?

The short answer for many homes in the region this year is immediately, insurance agents and others say.

They note that for a policy to be useful, it must be purchased at least 30 days prior to the crest of a flood event.

"Sooner is better than later, in regards to flood insurance," said Matt Jacobson, Clay County's planning director.