New PRELIMINARY Coastal Flood Maps

Coastal Flood Maps, otherwise known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) are used to determine the minimum elevation needed for construction to reduce the chances of flooding, as well as construction methods required in certain zones.

Monroe County Building Department looks over the newly released maps

County Consultant

The County has hired a consultant to analyze how flood risks are changing in Unincorporated Monroe County based on the provided studies using updated information and the best available science and technology.  The technical consultant will also be reviewing the maps and modeling conducted by FEMA and is prepared to appeal any of the maps that do not appear to be correct.  

June 2020 Consultant Presentation

  1. Mary Wingate

    Chief of Floodplain Regulatory Operations
    Phone: 305-289-2866

Summary of FEMA RiskMap Review for Monroe County

Woods Hole Group completed a review of FEMA’s December 2019 RiskMap study for Monroe County. The review identified eight RiskMap study components that are of concern because of (a) the use of non-standard approaches in certain study areas, (b) inconsistencies in methodology with other FEMA Coastal RiskMap studies, (c) discrepancies between the RiskMap documentation and the analyses, or (d) possible errors in the analysis. A summary of the study components of concern is provided below. Errors or inconsistencies with the first five study components could result in regional impacts to the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), while issues with the last three study components could result in more localized impacts to the FIRMs.

1. Storm Climatology & Selection

FEMA use of a single Coastal Reference Point (CRP) in Miami-Dade County to establish a set of synthetic storms for modeling is not representative of the Keys (see picture below). The storms defined using this single CRP are not realistic for Monroe County in terms of storm rate and intensity. The adjacent Southwest Florida RiskMap study used spatially varied storm rates and storm parameters; this type of analysis would be more appropriate for the Keys. It also appears that the synthetic storms did not include attenuation caused by landmasses.
Zoning of hurricane model

2. Statistical Analysis of Storm Sets

A non-standard analysis that combined storm sets from the east and west was used to develop the 1 percent water levels  (see picture below). The Combined Probability Analysis (CPS) assumed the storm sets were independent even though both sets have Atlantic and Caribbean genesis storms, potentially leading to inflated 1 percent water levels on the ocean side of the Keys. Additionally, the study did not include measurements errors in the statistical analysis, which is inconsistent with other FEMA RiskMap studies.

Hurricane modeling

3. Wave Model Validation

Documentation for the South Florida RiskMap study indicates the wave model was not validated against measured data, citing the lack of available data as the reason. However, a review of wave data collected by the NOAA National Data Buoy Center shows measured data at three buoys for storms impacting the Keys (see picture below). A comparison of model results against data collected during Hurricane Andrew shows an overprediction of wave height and period during the peak of the hurricane.

Map of Florida Keys

4. Hydrodynamic/Wave Model Mesh Resolution

Errors in the development of the hydrodynamic/wave model mesh were identified at seven channel locations throughout the Keys. The mesh resolution was not fine enough to allow conveyance of storm surge and waves during all simulated storms (see picture below).

Map of topography of the Florida KeysMap of topography of Florida Keys

5. Hydrodynamic/Wave Modeling of Reefs

When considering reefs in the hydrodynamic/wave model, FEMA used friction values lower than recommended by the scientific literature (Figure 5). Since friction created by the reefs acts to dissipate the amount of wave energy reaching the shoreline, this issue could have an impact on the overland wave modeling and flood zone mapping.

Side-by-side comparison of areas affected

6. Overland Modeling of Mangroves

FEMA’s characterization of mangrove height and density differs from data available from the 2014-2016 South Florida Water Management District for four distinct areas of the Keys (Figure 6). Since mangroves act to dissipate the amount of wave energy reaching the shoreline, this issue could have an impact on the overland wave modeling and flood zone mapping.

Zoning map of the Florida Keys

7. Transect Spacing & Location for Overland Modeling

Transect spacing in Monroe County is 2.2 to 2.7 times greater than the transect spacing in the neighboring counties of Palm Beach and Broward. Given the irregular nature of the shoreline in the Keys, as well as variations in development and vegetation, the transect spacing in Monroe County should be reduced. This will help to characterize irregularities in the shoreline and improve the accuracy of flood zone mapping between transects.

Monroe County 120 miles of shoreline graphic

8. Topography Used for Modeling and Mapping

Topography used by FEMA for modeling and mapping differs from Monroe County mobile LiDAR data collected post-hurricane Irma in seven areas throughout Monroe County. In these specific areas, the FEMA topography is lower than the mobile LiDAR data by 0.5 to 1 ft (see picture below). Since the ground elevations influence the extent of flooding and wave action along the coast, this issue could have an impact on the overland wave modeling and flood zone mapping.

Lower Sugarloaf Key comparison at different levels

Woods Hole Group is currently working to further investigate the influence of these areas of concern on the FIRMs, and to develop the technical information necessary for an appeal of the December 2019 maps.

Preliminary Coastal Maps

On December 27, 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released new PRELIMINARY coastal flood maps to Monroe County staff. These maps, after a multi-year study of Monroe County’s coastal flood risks and an extensive vetting process, will eventually replace the current flood maps which are based on 30-plus-year-old studies.

While FEMA has emphasized that these are only PRELIMINARY maps, Monroe County wants to ensure all residents and business owners are aware of the potential for a change in flood risk for their property so that they can be more proactive in reducing their flood risk. 

View Preliminary Coastal Maps

  • FEMA FIRM PRELIMINARY Mapping tool  (NOTE: Use in Chrome Browser for optimum user experience)  Click in the FIRM Panel section where the property is located to view the popup containing a link to the Draft Map (PDF) or search by property address in the top left-hand corner.
  • FEMA PRELIMINARY Map Service Center - Select State (FL), County (Monroe County) to get to the webpage listing various area maps. Warning maps on the site are very large and may take several minutes to open/download.

MapAnnotation2 2020-01-16 113634

IMPORTANT: These maps don’t show an additional difference in elevation due to a change in mapping standards between the old and new proposed flood maps (datum NGVD29-> NAVD88). This means that all NGVD29 elevations (e.g., BFE, Lowest Floor Elevation) need to be converted to NAVD88. While there is no set conversion factor, as it varies throughout Monroe County, on average there is -1.5 foot conversion. To account for this change, ON AVERAGE you should add +1.5 foot to any apparent increase. For example, if your building was in an AE-8 flood zone and is still shown in an AE-8 zone, then it actually experienced an increase of 1.5 feet. Another example, if your building was in an AE-6 flood zone and is proposed to be in an AE-9 zone, the increase appears to be three-feet.  However, the actual increase would be 4.5 feet.

To convert one vertical datum to another, visit the ArcGIS SFWMD Elevation Conversion: NGVD29 to NAVD88 mapping tool.

Previous X-Zone Buildings

Structures removed from the X-zones didn’t previously have a flood level associated with them, so this mapping standard difference wouldn’t be relevant.

View Current Flood Maps

Visit the FEMA Flood Map Service Center and search by property address.  

Flood Risk and New Building

To emphasize that flood risks are changing and to make sure property owners understand this is coming, Monroe County Building Department will be requiring owner’s to sign a form with permits that acknowledge the issuance of these new PRELIMINARY coastal flood maps and the fact that these maps may indicate a future change to the required elevation of a building currently being permitted. 

Building Department Permit Application with new signature page 3 -1

This is intended to help homeowners understand that what they might be proposing to build today, under the existing flood maps, could become non-conforming after the maps are changed, thereby making their flood risk and insurance costs greater. Owners should think about designing their improvements to meet the proposed PRELIMINARY maps to assure they are addressing potential future risk.

FEMA Map Review Process

During the week of January 27, 2020, FEMA held Community meetings throughout the Keys, offering the public an opportunity to view and comment in person on the proposed PRELIMINARY Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Following this, Monroe County, through its Consultant, examined the maps and the accompanying Flood Insurance Studies provided by FEMA.

The COVID-19 Pandemic impacted FEMA’s original timeline for Monroe County’s Map Review and Adoption Process, setting the entire process back approximately 3 months. FEMA is now in the process of preparing a notice for advertisement in the Federal Register. FEMA is anticipating FR publication late summer or early fall. Once the federal register notice is published, legal notices will be sent to local newspapers announcing this publication. The second legal notice in the newspapers will mark the beginning of the 90-Day Appeal and Comment period. At this point in time, anyone wishing to comment or appeal the maps as they are proposed, refer to the next section below, APPEALS, for direction.

Once FEMA reviews and processes all appeals, they will publish the final FIRMS. The Final FIRMs will most likely become effective sometime in 2021-2022.

When that happens, the county will formally adopt the maps by ordinance and the maps will be used when reviewing permits; and the final maps will establish what a finished floor elevation needs to be and determine building and site design requirements to reduce future risk of flooding. New lender requirements may go into effect along with flood insurance requirements, as well as changes in flood insurance rates as a result of map changes.


Any community or individual property owner can appeal proposed changes to flood hazard information or comment on other information included on the preliminary flood hazard maps, also known as Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and the preliminary Flood Insurance Study (FIS) report.  

Per FEMA, an appeal must be based on data and documentation showing the proposed flood hazard information shown on the preliminary FIRM or in the FIS report is scientifically or technically incorrect. Appellants need to demonstrate better methodologies, assumptions or data exists and provide alternative analyses that incorporate those methodologies, assumptions, or data if appropriate. The results must show an overall change in the flood hazard information shown on the preliminary FIRM and/or in the FIS report.

Formal appeals of the Preliminary Maps to areas in Unincorporated Monroe County must be submitted to FEMA through Monroe County.  Both the FEMA MT -2 and Monroe County appeal applications with all proposed changes must be submitted along with the data and documentation supporting proposed changes. 

These appeals will have a $170 nonrefundable application fee and a $5,000 deposit required to be submitted as part of the application. The $5,000 deposit will be held in escrow and the money from this deposit will be used on an as-required basis by the County’s consultant in marshaling the individual appeal. At the conclusion of the appeal, any remainder of the deposit will be returned to the Applicant.   

FEMA Appeal Process

Tentative Timeline

The following diagram shows the tentative process timeline provided by FEMA for the Draft Maps, Preliminary Maps, and Final Maps:

Updated Timeline12022020

For More Information

For more information about the FEMA mapping process, email or call 305-453-8759. To learn more about flood insurance, talk to your insurance agent, or visit