Climate change is bad for everyone. But this is where it’s likely to be worst in the US.

If you’re considering a long-term real estate investment, or looking for a place to settle for 20 or 30 years, you might be wondering which cities or states might fare better than others in a changing climate.

“In a world where climate change is getting worse, there are no winners,” said Alex Kamins, director of regional economics at Moody’s Analytics and author of a recent study on climate risks in the United States.

Climate change is increasing long-term risk almost everywhere, Kamins and others said. The temperatures are rising. The oceans are warming and rising. And scientists say the heat and higher sea levels are helping make some natural disasters even more extreme.

Impacts vary widely across time and space, so it’s difficult to come up with a definitive “buy here, not there” ranking, but a growing body of evidence is helping to highlight some general trends.

USA TODAY examined data from First Street and Moody’s Analytics – two organizations that study future climate risks – to determine which areas of the country are most at risk from these climate impacts over the next 30 years.

Insurers and mortgage lenders are asking the same questions, Kamins said. Banks are being asked to “stress test their portfolios to prepare for the impacts of climate change”.

While places with the greatest risks seem obvious – think Florida – you might surprise others.

Here’s your guide to what, when, and where to expect the worst impacts of climate change in the United States

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Every region sees risks

Climate change will have an uneven impact on the US in the coming decades. Some areas may experience more heat, more flooding, more extreme storms, or more intense wildfires — or all together.

The US won’t see underwater places or disappear from the map in the next 30 years, Kamins said, but access to fresh water and insurance premiums will become bigger challenges.

“Each year it becomes more and more crystal clear how much risk we face, whether it’s increasingly severe natural disasters or drought and heat risks,” he said. “In some cases, it creates new impetus, or whole new impetus, for governments and companies that previously have not given serious thought to the impact of climate change.”

Everyone loses when others are affected because we all depend on goods and services from other states and countries, said climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a domino effect.”

east coast: Wind, flooding and sea level rise are piling up the deck against many counties and states, particularly Florida and the Carolinas, Kamins said. The bustling economy and distance to the beach still draw people in droves, but at some point the tide will literally turn against the communities on beaches and coastal rivers.

Southwest: Heat and fire pose increasing risks, particularly in Arizona, he said, even without considering the dangers of a dwindling water supply.

Inner: Intense heat could affect these states most in runaway warming scenarios, Mann said. Sudden downpours of unprecedented rain are also occurring more frequently, although these states are not in coastal areas prone to hurricanes. A study he co-authored showed that some of the greatest risks of heat stress may be in urban areas in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes.

Idaho to Minnesota: A number of states in the northern US are looking better than most, with less pronounced risks, Kamins said. Recent statistics on an influx of newcomers to Idaho and its burgeoning tech hub in Boise suggest people may be finding out. He reckons Montana could be the next frontier within 10 to 20 years.

What are the causes of climate change? How can it be stopped?

What are the effects of climate change? Disasters, weather and impacts on agriculture.

States that may be earlier at greater risk from climate change

Texas – Its sheer size and geography mean Texas is a lot of risk. First Street’s data shows some of its counties are at high risk from wildfires, some face higher potential losses from tropical cyclones, and some face greater risk of flooding. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Lone Star State leads the nation in billion-dollar disasters. There are an average of 5.3 such events per year, twice the number for the previous 20 years, even adjusted for inflation.

Florida – 8,346 miles of shoreline surrounded by water on three sides. Need we say more? Rising sea levels and extreme precipitation, fueled by warming oceans, with the potential for more intense hurricanes as more people crowd into densely populated areas, increase risks. Florida has the most top spots on First Street’s list of counties that could see the largest increase in the number of days with the warmest temperatures they’re experiencing today.

New Jersey – The Garden State has counties at the top of First Street lists for potential increases in average annual wind losses, extreme fire risk, and lands prone to flooding. New Jersey suffered three hurricanes or their remnants in 2021-22, including Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Henri, and the last remnants of Hurricane Ian. Forecasts of stronger winds from more tropical cyclones and hurricanes are not good news.

California – In the past three years, the state experienced its biggest wildfire season in history, its worst drought in 1,200 years and a string of record-breaking atmospheric flows. Golden State residents don’t need to be reminded of the risks they face, but First Street data shows that some California counties top their lists for most extreme fire risk and some cities have the highest percentage of residential real estate, that are threatened by flooding.

According to Moody’s Analytics, which states face the greatest physical risks?

When it comes to weather-related events, hurricanes are literally the heavyweights when it comes to acute physical risks. Climate change is already boosting rain in some tropical storms and hurricanes and could slow them across land, but that research is still ongoing, scientists say. Floods and wildfires also played a role in Kamin’s assessment of physical risks. Here is his list:

  • Florida

  • Louisiana

  • South Carolina

  • North Carolina

  • Delaware

  • Rhode Island

  • New Jersey

  • Virginia

  • Massachusetts

  • Connecticut

Other places suffer more from changes that happen over time than in single headline-grabbing events. Think of the creeping sea level rise or warmer nights and higher average temperatures.

San Francisco is at above-average risk in these categories and more, and is the most vulnerable major city in the country, Kamins said.

Brown pelicans fly in front of the San Francisco skyline on August 17, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Brown pelicans fly in front of the San Francisco skyline on August 17, 2018 in San Francisco, California.

It’s one of those urban areas where residents aren’t used to extreme temperatures and many homes don’t have air conditioning, he said. In a world where temperatures are rising 5-10 degrees, San Francisco residents, unlike Florida residents, are ill-equipped to deal with heat and this could be economically damaging.

Other cities with gradually increasing risk on Moody’s Analytics list include:

Southeast metropolitan areas are particularly at risk because they’re experiencing rising sea levels and temperatures, and a parade of cyclones that could become more intense, Kamin’s study says. Top 10:

  • Jacksonville, NC

  • New Bern, NC

  • Myrtle Beach, SC

  • Wilmington, NC

  • Greenville, NC

  • Charleston, SC

  • Punta Gorda, FL

  • Delta, FL

  • SanJuan, PR

  • Palm Bay, FL

  • Goldsboro, NC

Billions of dollars in disaster data indicate that states are already paying the price as climate changes.

When in doubt about the risks of future climate change, look no further than NOAA’s list of weather and climate disasters that have caused at least $1 billion in damage.

At least 37 states have suffered twice as many billion-dollar disasters this century as in the previous 20 years.

Tornado activity appears to be increasing in the Central South, with more frequent outbreaks, and a USA TODAY survey showed that extreme rain events are occurring more frequently along the Mississippi River Valley. Scientists say both trends could be related to the warming Gulf of Mexico.

USA TODAY investigation How a summer of extreme weather reveals a startling change in the way rain falls in America.

But it’s not just weather events that are driving up the number of disasters, NOAA said. More extreme weather events take a greater toll as population and development increases in vulnerable areas.

“Where you live matters, but how you live matters just as much,” said Stephen Strader, meteorologist and associate professor at Villanova University. “There are things we can do to better prepare our current developments for climate change.”

Billion dollar catastrophe events per year since 2001 (more than 3):

  • Texas – 5.3

  • Illinois – 3.9

  • Georgia – 3.7

  • Oklahoma – 3.6

  • Missouri – 3.5

  • North Carolina – 3.4

  • Alabama-3.3

  • Tennessee – 3.3

  • Virginia – 3.2

  • Kansas – 3.1

  • Mississippi – 3.1

More than 300% increase in billion dollar catastrophe events per year since 2000:

  • Arizona – 500%

  • Wyoming – 450%

  • Utah – 400%

  • New Mexico – 367%

  • Nevada – 335%

  • Nebraska – 320%

  • Colorado – 300%

  • Wisconsin – 300%

When considering future scenarios, it’s important to note that much remains under the control of the world, Mann said.

With significant action to keep warming below 3 degrees F, “we can limit the worsening of extreme weather events” even though sea-level rise is already set, he said. A lack of action would mean that “the effects could be just as bad inside our continent”.

How action can help On Earth Day, scientists tell us what the year 2050 could look like. Your answers might surprise you.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What Are the Worst Cities and States for Climate Change Impacts?


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