Despite mounting danger, Americans keep moving to the counties at highest risk for wildfires, floods, and droughts




  • In Science
  • 2022-04-22 16:11:47Z
  • By Business Insider
cardboard moving boxes sit in front of housing development with new homes under construction tampa florida
cardboard moving boxes sit in front of housing development with new homes under construction tampa florida  
  • Americans are still moving into areas with high risk of climate-driven extreme weather.

  • Experts expect floods, fires, storms, and heat waves to fuel increasing migration across the US.

  • Cities must prepare for both climate change disasters and new arrivals, a report warns.

In late December, amid the depths of Colorado winter, the Marshall Fire roared through the suburbs east of Boulder, fueled by powerful winds. Destroying more than 1,000 homes, it became the most destructive blaze in history.

That's why Jeni Arndt, the mayor of nearby Fort Collins, says it's a relief to see population growth finally slowing down in her city. The fires and droughts are just getting worse.

"We're still seeing robust growth in Colorado, but none of my kids want to really live here because of the smoke," Arndt said during a Thursday press briefing hosted by the National League of Cities, a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents more than 2,400 cities across the US.

Overall, though, Americans haven't stopped moving into areas at high risk of climate-related disasters, according to a new report from the NLC, released Thursday.

Sometimes people move into risky areas because they've been priced out of their home cities, according to the report, but sometimes they're looking for more space, solitude, or warmer weather. Either way, the trend means more Americans will face extreme weather disasters, along with the pressure to evacuate or move, as the planet warms.

california wildfire house in flames burning down
california wildfire house in flames burning down  

In the 50 counties with the largest share of homes exposed to high risk of flood, drought, storms, and fires, new people moving in increased populations by up to 3.5% on average from 2016 to 2020, according to an analysis last year by the real-estate company Redfin. For the 50 counties with the largest extreme-heat risk, the average increase was 4.7%.

On the East Coast, developers are building new housing two to three times faster in areas that surveys deemed vulnerable to flooding than they are in safer regions, according to the NLC report.

workers pave driveway and build new townhomes in a row
workers pave driveway and build new townhomes in a row  

In the West, a primary concern is the wildland-urban interface, where residential developments sit in forested areas that are highly vulnerable to wildfires. From 1990 to 2010, there was a 41% increase in the number of new homes in these areas, one study calculated. Every year now, homes in those areas are burning down.

"We haven't seen much out-migration yet," Arndt said of Fort Collins. But, she added, "I think that's not unrealistic. I hear people just anecdotally say 'I'm going to Montana' or 'I'm going to Canada, it's cooler there, or North Dakota,' and these sorts of things. That might really come to pass."

The US is headed for a climate-driven migration boom

two people walk through floodwaters in residential neighborhood
two people walk through floodwaters in residential neighborhood  

Disasters displaced 1.7 million Americans in 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. While it's unclear how many of those disasters were related to climate change, years of research show that rising global temperatures are increasing the severity and frequency of floods, fires, and heat waves, as well as making hurricanes more dangerous.

In the summer of 2021, nearly one in three Americans lived in a county that suffered an extreme weather disaster, according to the new NLC report.

That exposure is already influencing some people's decision to relocate. In a different 2021 Redfin survey, 49% of respondents who planned to move in the next year said increasing intensity or frequency of natural disasters was a factor in their decision.

The climate crisis is likely to displace more and more people as it ramps up. The most recent assessment of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that, under 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, some low-lying coastal cities and mountain areas could become inhospitable to human life. It predicts that hundreds of millions of people worldwide will be at risk of climate-related displacement by the second half of the century.

Cities across the US must prepare to both protect their residents from climate disasters and accommodate new migrants, the new NLC report asserts. That looks different from city to city, but the report makes dozens of recommendations, including encouraging municipalities to collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions, prioritize affordable housing, and offer funding to help low-income residents prepare their homes for extreme weather.

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  • private blog network
    (2022-04-23 13:43:04Z)

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't appear.
    Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

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