Updated September 2020
So, you’re a climate change prepper looking to escape climate change within the United States. Assuming a target date of 2050 to 2060, the worst of it may not hit in your lifetime, but maybe you’re wondering where your children or grandchildren should live. Living in safer locations now could give them a leg up when everyone else is on the move. But where? It’s a question many people are beginning to ask themselves.
Matthew Kahn has even written a book on the subject – Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future.
First off – good luck finding anywhere free from the effects of climate change. Between increased rates of droughts, wildfires, extreme heat, and flooding, every place will be impacted. Nowhere on the planet will be immune to what will come. That said, not all areas of the United States will be hit in the same way. Some places will be better than others. Let’s look at where those places are, so you can buy real estate there today, and better survive tomorrow.
Much of the information here has come, in part, from the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which looks at projected impacts by area. Let’s start with where you don’t want to live.
Worst Places to Escape Climate Change
It should go without saying that coastal areas will be some of the hardest hit. Some coastlines will be hit worse than others, however. The East Coast of the United States, for example, will probably have it worse than the West Coast. Sea levels on the East Coast are rising faster than they are globally, and the East Coast also has to contend with hurricanes. Summers could be rough. Cities facing the worst of this include Miami, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and on the West Coast – Los Angeles. The Northeast specifically will experience the highest rate of sea-level rise in the entire U.S.
Logic might flow that residents of these cities should plan to move inland now, to places like Atlanta, Houston, or Phoenix. Of course, Hurricane Harvey gave Houston a taste of what it will experience. Phoenix is in the middle of the desert and will face even drier conditions. And Atlanta is one of the fastest-warming cities in the country!
Places with Drought and Heat Waves
Places subject to water stress will be less inviting when climate change hits full-swing. Specifically, the Great Plains and the Southwest. These areas of the United States will only get drier as the planet heats up. The water supply that comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains is projected to drop by two-thirds by 2050. Water levels in Lake Mead are already setting record lows.
The Midwest will experience more crop diseases and pests. Corn and soybean harvests will decline and be less predictable overall. This will be coupled with rising temperatures, making this area feel like present day Las Vegas.
As for the Southern Great Plains (Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas), these areas will get a good mix of climate change impact: heat waves, tornadoes, ice storms, hurricanes, and hail. Summers will be longer and hotter. There will be more drought. The Texas Gulf Coast specifically will encounter stronger hurricanes.
Drought will also hit the Pacific Northwest, which might sound strange given how much rain it can get. However, that area of the United States relies on snowpack for much of its drinking water. That snow will be replaced by rain, which will immediately flow downstream, causing mudslides in some places. This is opposed to the snowpack in the mountains now, where water gets stored.
South of there, in the Southwest, things will be worse. This is the hottest and driest area of the U.S. right now, and you can expect that to continue. The area is already running out of water, yet people continue to move there, putting even greater strain on water reserves. Temperatures will soar. Droughts and megadroughts (lasting years) will become common.
Places Prone to Wildfires
The Western United States will experience both drought and increased heat, creating challenges for growing crops and containing wildfires. An increase in wildfires, of course, also results in poorer air quality as the smoke drifts eastward.
The picture above indicates areas with heightened risk of wildfires. As you can see, the Southeast is also expected to see an increase in wildfire frequency. The Northeast looks well-positioned when it comes to wildfires, but residents there, living largely on the coast, face other challenges.
Hawaii? No. The islands will experience stranger weather patterns and be faced with trying to protect their most valuable asset – drinking water. Rainfall will dwindle and rising sea levels will compromise groundwater supplies. Hawaii will face some serious threats.
Alaska might come to mind. It’s cold and it has a lot of land away from the coast. Yes, but temperatures are rising there as well, and Alaska’s melting permafrost could unleash ancient viruses and bacteria that humans have lost immunity to! Alaska’s wildfire season is also getting worse.
Best Places to Escape Climate Change
We’ve covered the places you don’t want to live, so where does that leave?
Consider the following four criteria when looking for the best places to escape climate change:
- Cooler Location – The cooler a place is now, the more room it has to heat up.
- Away from the Coast – Beyond rising sea levels threatening housing and business, being further away from the coast means fewer storms.
- Water Security – You want a place that is not dependent on snowpack, aquifers, or reservoirs for water.
- Elevation – Being at higher elevation will help beat the heat and escape flooding.
Some of the best areas include the Upper Midwest (think Minnesota, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan). Upper Michigan has identified been identified by some as the best place in America to escape climate change. Ohio and Pennsylvania are good, too.
Parts of Montana are also apt to fare “better.” As time goes by, however, more people will try to escape climate change in the United States by migrating to these areas. That then taxes the water sources. Climate change will have a compounding effect. Groundwater will be compromised.
I identified problems residents of the Midwest will face, but really, there are worse places. So if you’re living in the Midwest already – stay put and expect company!
Upstate New York and much of New England (away from the coast) are good places to be. These areas have strong drinking water supplies and are already cooler than much of the United States. These rural, inland areas will not experience as much drought, tornadoes, hurricanes, or wildfires. Burlington, Vermont is a beautiful city and apt to experience an influx of people.
Looking for a Spot Outside the United States?
If you are from outside the U.S., or want to move to another country, you can do worse than Canada (anywhere away from the coast).
Greenland also comes out as a winner. The country has more fresh water than it can use, and the annual melt it will experience from global warming means that won’t change anytime soon.
Suggested reading for more on this subject:
- I’m Leaving the West Coast – The Atlantic
- Opinion: Every Place Has Its Own Climate Risk – New York Times
- The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
- The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres
- The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations by Daniel Yergin