Admin correction: The headline, originally titled “When Is It Time To Leave? Expect 1 Million US Climate Migrants This Year“ has been changed for clarity.
Climate News reports over on BlueSky that at least 1 million Americans will need to relocate during 2024 to avoid flooding, wildfires, droughts, or other extreme weather. This figure may increase to 5 million during 2025 and 100 million by 2027. Just nine days into the year, massive storms, tornadoes, and floods have impacted the lives of millions of Americans. Maybe not yet to the point of forcing them to consider moving, but the writing is on the wall.
Last year, there were 28 disasters in the United States, with price tags of $1B each. Those numbers are only expected to increase in 2024 as global temperatures continue to rise, causing more extreme heatwaves, flooding, and more powerful extreme weather events.
Those disasters, tallied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, include the wildfire on Maui in August; Hurricane Idalia, which hit Florida later that month; and Typhoon Mawar in Guam in late May. The list also includes four flooding events, two tornado outbreaks, a heat wave, and 17 severe weather and hail events.
The increase in billion-dollar disasters reflects two long-term shifts, according to NOAA. One is the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events as temperatures rise. The other is continued development in vulnerable areas, such as coastlines and fire-prone areas. The financial toll has been enormous. Last year’s 28 billion-dollar events caused a combined total of at least $92.9 billion in damage, according to NOAA. www.nytimes.com/...
Forbes Home reports that 64% of Americans cited climate change or weather as the impetus for them to move this year; more than ½ of respondents in their survey said they had been forced to move unexpectedly.
Yet, despite weather extremes, many people are also relocating to climate-vulnerable areas, says Dr. Cascade Tuholske, a scientist at Columbia University.
“People are moving to areas with worsening risk to climate hazards. Take wildfires—real estate prices are skyrocketing across the west, not decreasing, in areas with increased fire risk because of climate change. The same can be said for booming housing markets in coastal regions facing increasing flood risk due to climate change, like Florida,” Dr. Tuholkse said. “What is really concerning to me is extreme heat, often called the silent killer in cities like Houston, which my work shows has had the biggest increase in dangerous hot-humid over the last 30 years of any American city. Yet again, Houston’s population has exploded.”
Back in 2020, ProPublica’s Abraham Lustgarten reported from California during the height of the wildfire season on the great American climate migration, questioning whether it was time to move for good.
Lustgarten wrote that year:
I am far from the only American facing such questions. This summer has seen more fires, more heat, more storms — all of it making life increasingly untenable in larger areas of the nation. Already, droughts regularly threaten food crops across the West, while destructive floods inundate towns and fields from the Dakotas to Maryland, collapsing dams in Michigan and raising the shorelines of the Great Lakes. Rising seas and increasingly violent hurricanes are making thousands of miles of American shoreline nearly uninhabitable. As California burned, Hurricane Laura pounded the Louisiana coast with 150-mile-an-hour winds, killing at least 25 people; it was the 12th named storm to form by that point in 2020, another record. Phoenix, meanwhile, endured 53 days of 110-degree heat — 20 more days than the previous record.
For years, Americans have avoided confronting these changes in their own backyards. The decisions we make about where to live are distorted not just by politics that play down climate risks, but also by expensive subsidies and incentives aimed at defying nature. In much of the developing world, vulnerable people will attempt to flee the emerging perils of global warming, seeking cooler temperatures, more fresh water and safety. But here in the United States, people have largely gravitated toward environmental danger, building along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and settling across the cloudless deserts of the Southwest.
But, Lustgarten said, Americans are “insulated from the shocks of climate change... distanced from the food and water sources they depend on, and they are part of a culture that sees every problem as capable of being solved by money.”
So even as the average flow of the Colorado River — the water supply for 40 million Western Americans and the backbone of the nation’s vegetable and cattle farming — has declined for most of the last 33 years, the population of Nevada has doubled. At the same time, more than 1.5 million people have moved to the Phoenix metro area, despite its dependence on that same river (and the fact that temperatures there now regularly hit 115 degrees). Since Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida in 1992 — and even as that state has become a global example of the threat of sea-level rise — more than 5 million people have moved to Florida’s shorelines, driving a historic boom in building and real estate.
Similar patterns are evident across the country. Census data shows us how Americans move: toward heat, toward coastlines, toward drought, regardless of evidence of increasing storms and flooding and other disasters.
The states considered to be the safest places to relocate are Michigan, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Maine. The following cities in the upper Midwest, the Northeast, and the Great Lakes region are considered “climate havens.”
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Duluth, Minnesota
- Buffalo, New York
- Burlington, Vermont
- Madison, Wisconsin
As Lustgarten said, even when the facts are impossible to ignore, people just don’t want to seriously consider uprooting their lives. They do so only when there is no longer an alternative.
Berkeley Earth, which has been reporting on global temperatures since 2013, joins ranks with organizations reporting that 2023 was the hottest year on record since 1850.
2023 was notable for:
- New national record high annual averages for an estimated 77 countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Germany, Japan, and Mexico
- Record annual average warmth in both the land-average and ocean-average
- Record warmth in most ocean basins, including once-in-a-century levels of warmth in the North Atlantic
- Record low Antarctic sea ice during the Antarctic winter
- An emergent strong El Niño event, contributing significantly to the record warmth