We asked 12 climate scientists where they'd live in the US to avoid future natural disasters. Here's what they said.
No city is entirely safe from natural disasters, but a some are better positioned to avoid them than others. We asked 12 climate scientists where they would consider living to avoid climate change. Cities like Portland, Tulsa, and Minneapolis ranked among the preferred locations. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
United Nations scientists predict that we have only a decade left to avoid the worst effects of climate change — sweltering heatwaves, violent hurricanes, and larger, more frequent wildfires. Climate change is already be impacting where people in the US choose to move. A 2017 study found that American homes that are vulnerable to rising seas sell for around 7% less than similar unexposed properties — even though the damage could be decades away. To figure out what areas are least vulnerable to natural disasters in the future, we asked 12 climate scientists where they would consider living to avoid climate change. All were quick to note that no area is entirely safe, but a few cities could be less vulnerable than the rest. Here are the cities they said are the least vulnerable to disaster. SEE ALSO: Stunning images from space show how wars, fires, and floods changed our world over the last decade Tulsa, Oklahoma is not threatened by sea-level rise.
Cities like Miami are likely to see flooding become more intense and frequent, Richard Alley, a climate science professor at Pennsylvania State University, told Business Insider. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses rapidly, he said, global sea levels could increase by 4 to 5 meters in the next 100 years. Tulsa, Oklahoma, however, is not vulnerable to that threat. In addition to its locational advantage, Tulsa has gone to great lengths to protect itself from flooding. Following a devastating storm in 1984, the city installed a number of detention ponds, which retain water in the wake of a storm. Tulsa also paid to either transport or destroy around 1,000 homes that had been damaged. As a result, its flood-insurance rates went from the highest in the nation to among the lowest. Hartford, Connecticut is also not vulnerable to sea-level rise.
In a 2016 study, climate sociologist Mathew Hauer pinpointed the US cities that had the most residents likely to be affected by 6 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. "When we first started working on that project, 6 feet was considered the highest high by the end of the century," Hauer told Business Insider. "Now it's 10 feet." His study predicted that cities like Miami and New Orleans would see "catastrophic impacts." "When you start tacking on storm surges, tidal flooding, all those other associated events, the numbers get much larger," Hauer said. Hartford, Connecticut, however, is relatively safe thanks to its inland location and small population size (around 124,000 people). Even if Boulder, Colorado gets hit by a major drought in the next 10 years, the city won't run out of water.
Two of the top criteria for avoiding the threat of sea-level rise are high elevation and a location in the middle of the country, Camilo Mora, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii, told Business Insider. To avoid environmental disasters, Mora said, people should look for places where they can live self-sufficiently, with an independent agricultural system and a body of water that doesn't depend on melting ice. While Mora didn't identify a single city that best meets these criteria, Boulder, Colorado, fits the bill. It's far from the coast and has an altitude of more than 5,300 feet. Boulder has also carefully monitored its water usage to account for changes in weather. Even if the city expands, officials have found, it will own enough water rights to meet residents' demands through 2030. San Diego, California has the best all-around weather compared to other major cities.
San Diego may be exposed to rising seas, but its coastal location gives it a host of other advantages. According to research from Sarah Kapnick, a climate scientist at Princeton University, San Diego may have the most ideal weather of any US city. Kapnick studied "mild weather" days in the US — those suited for outdoor activities, with low precipitation, low humidity, and temperatures between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit — and found that summers are becoming hotter and more humid. By the end of the century, she discovered, cities in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico could lose weeks of mild weather due to climate change. This wasn't the case in San Diego, however, which currently boasts 180 days of mild weather per year. By comparison, Los Angeles gets 157, New York has 83, and Boston sees just 76. In the future, San Diego could see even better weather: Kapnick's study predicts the city will gain three mild days per year by the end of the century. A concern for San Diego, however, is the loss of precipitation, which can raise the risk of drought and wildfire. Those are threats that nearly all California cities face. Sacramento, California may be vulnerable to wildfires, but it could still be one of the safest places to avoid the cumulative effects of natural disasters.
According to Vivek Shandas, an urban-planning professor at Portland State University, Sacramento ranks among the cities that are least vulnerable to the cumulative effects of hurricanes, sea level rise, tornadoes, flooding, droughts, landslides, and wildfires. The city is less than two hours outside San Francisco and is developing strategies to prepare for the effects of climate change. Michael Anderson, the state climatologist at California's Department of Water Resources, said some northern California cities are less vulnerable to extreme heat, too. "Just by latitude, you're in a cooler climate," he said. "You have the marine layer — colder waters coming down from the north that modulate the temperature." Minnesota's twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are relatively sheltered from hurricanes and floods.
Minneapolis may be known for its harsh winters, but the city is not likely to get much colder than it is already, according to David Robinson, New Jersey's state climatologist and a professor at Rutgers University. Robinson said Minneapolis could be ideal for those looking to avoid the harshest effects of climate change. While Minneapolis may be susceptible to droughts and thunderstorms, its northern, inland location makes it less vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Hurricanes are among the most destructive natural disasters; in the US they primarily threaten those along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic seaboard. Robinson also said summers in Minneapolis probably won't get as persistently hot as in other cities. The inland location of Charlotte, North Carolina makes it less vulnerable to hurricanes.
While North Carolina has suffered through its fair share of hurricanes, Louisiana state climatologist Barry Keim said Charlotte is the least vulnerable city when it comes to the overall effects of climate change. It's far enough inland to avoid the worst of the Atlantic hurricane season, which could get more severe as the climate continues to change. The city's climate is also mild, with a mean annual temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. While most cities are getting hotter as a result of climate change, Charlotte has actually begun to cool down over time. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania could experience less extreme cold in the future.
The fact that the Midwest has seen seen its population decline in recent decades is "somewhat ironic," John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and a professor at Texas A&M University, told Business Insider. "Not only will the Midwest avoid many of the bad effects of climate change, it will experience most of the good effects: less extreme cold and a longer growing season," Nielsen-Gammon said. One city in particular that stands to benefit is Pittsburgh, which Nielsen-Gammon said is "safe from hurricanes" and unlikely to experience drought. In 2018, the Pittsburgh City Council approved an ambitious new climate plan to reduce carbon emissions. Portland, Oregon could become a refuge for climate migrants.
For those unwilling to give up on a coast, Portland may be ideal. Compared to other coastal states, Oregon faces less property at risk because of sea-level rise and less physical area exposed, Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Business Insider. It's also less vulnerable to hurricanes compared to cities along the East and Gulf Coasts, according to Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist at UCS. He travels to dozens of cities each year, Shandas said, but few rival Portland's ability to withstand major climate events. A 2011 report from Portland State University echoed that— it predicted that the Willamette Valley would become a refuge for people looking to escape the harsh effects of climate change. In 1993, Portland became the first US city to devise a plan for cutting carbon, vowing to reduce local carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The city is also a recipient of the C40 Cities award, which recognizes the world's most inspiring and innovative cities tackling climate change. Unfortunately, Hawaii is expected to see more frequent and intense tropical storms, so scientists don't recommend living there.
Hiro Murakami, an associate research scholar at Princeton who studies hurricane and cyclone forecasting, said it's far easier to predict which cities are vulnerable to these natural disasters than name specific places that will be immune to them. Murakami warned that people should not move to the Hawaiian Islands. In a 2013 study, he predicted that Hawaii's tropical storm frequency would double by the next century. But Caldas said there's no one-size-fits-all recommendation when it comes to minimizing climate risk. "One may move away from the coast, only to find that inland floods are a problem. One may move from the south seeking cooler climates only to be hit by extreme precipitation, or drought, or wildfires," she said. "Each person or community needs to weigh all the factors carefully and choose their level of risk-taking."