These US states are the most vulnerable to climate change

by Crystle Moniz

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Wildfires, sinking coastlines, floods and intense storms are becoming increasingly common.


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This story is part of The Cost of Climate Change, CNET’s coverage of how the changing climate impacts a range of financial issues.

The summer of 2021 was environmentally disastrous. Wildfires in California and Oregon fueled by record-breaking heat and severe droughts burned 1.6 million acres. Flash flooding in New Jersey and New York brought on by hurricanes Henri killed dozens across states and <a website Mississippi and Louisiana. Historic, triple-digit heat waves and severe droughts disrupted water, food and electrical production across the Northwest.

But some places are already bearing more of the brunt than others. In the US, a number of states are particularly vulnerable to climate change, putting them at a greater risk for disasters that will impact everything from physical safety and lifespan to property and assets. 

In compiling this list, we’ve drawn on a number of sources and analyses, including: Climate Central, an independent organization made up of leading scientists and journalists researching climate change; the 2020 Climate Change Catastrophe Report published by CoreLogic, a data analysis company; and Climate Change & Health: Assessing State Preparedness, a report compiled by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, or TFAH. 

Whether you’re already settled, looking to move or considering retirement locations, these are the US states that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Florida


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  • Climate change threats: Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding.
  • Preparedness: Florida is ranked as a “more prepared state” by TFAH and receives a “C” from Climate Central.
  • Primary public health risks: Rising frequency and intensity of hurricanes could lead to heightened levels of injury and death in the state. Heatstroke and extreme dehydration are also risks for vulnerable populations, as dangerously hot days will increase from 25 to 130 by 2050. Florida is home to 10 of the hottest US cities. As for those pesky flying insects, disease-carrying mosquitoes could be sticking around longer, as climate change keeps bumping up temperatures. And hurricanes create their ideal breeding conditions, lengthening mosquito season into the winter.
  • Other key risks: Flooding from heavy rain, storm surges, rising sea levels and a sinking Atlantic coastline increase the risk of damage to property — both homes and cars — in coastal and inland areas. Newly constructed homes and buildings are also threatened because of rising seas.

California


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  • Climate change threats: Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding.
  • Preparedness: California is ranked as a “more prepared state” by TFAH and receives an “A” from Climate Central. 
  • Primary public health risks: More than 11.2 million in California are at an elevated risk of wildfires, according to Climate Central’s data. Wildfires threaten human life and health as the resulting smoke and ashes can cause burns and injuries; eye, nose, throat and lung irritation; decreased lung function; pulmonary inflammation; and exacerbation of cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Other key risks: California contains some of the highest-risk homes in the entire US. King tide-driven floods can destroy personal property, including homes, as sea levels rise around the state. Wildfires and smoke from fires also cause irreparable damage. 
  • Recent impact: Wildfires continue to rise dramatically. Days with high wildfire potential are expected to increase to nearly 150 days per year by 2050 (compared to approximately 120 days today). Drought and hotter temperatures are resulting in tree death, which exacerbates the wildfire crisis in the West.

Louisiana


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  • Climate change threats: Extreme heat, drought, wildfires and coastal flooding.
  • Preparedness: Louisiana is ranked as a “more prepared state” by TFAH and receives a “C” from Climate Central. 
  • Primary public health risks: Residents of Louisiana will be among the highest risk for coastal flooding in the US — with more than 1.2 million projected to be in danger by 2050. Hotter weather means an increase in mosquito days, accelerating Zika risk across the state, according to Climate Central’s data. The state is also getting hotter, with a projection of nearly 115 hot days by 2050, and New Orleans is the 15th hottest city in the country. Summer drought levels are expected to double by 2050 as well, creating risk of heatstroke and dehydration, as well as threatening food, energy and water production.
  • Other key risks: Increased torrential rains will cause immense amounts of flooding, damaging personal property and homes throughout the state. 

Texas


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  • Climate change threats: Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding.
  • Primary public health risks: Already-hot Texas is getting even hotter. Dangerous heat days will increase from 60 to 115 per year by 2050 according to Climate Central’s data. Texas is home to nine of the hottest cities in the US, with McAllen taking second slot as the hottest city in the US after Miami. Today, about 840,000 Texans are already especially vulnerable to heatstroke, exhaustion and dehydration. Stronger Atlantic hurricanes also elevate the risk of injury and death in the state.
  • Other key risks: As with California, CoreLogic’s 2020 Climate Change Catastrophe Report indicates that Texas contains some of the highest-risk homes in the entire US. Tornadoes and hailstorms add to climate risks, potentially causing massive damage to houses, especially roofs, and cars, according to Tom Larsen, Principal of Insurance and Spatial Solutions at CoreLogic.
  • Recent impact: Texas faced a severe winter storm in 2021 that resulted in the death of dozens. Millions remained without power for some time, exacerbating the extreme chill that Texas was unprepared for. The economic impact of the winter freeze is estimated to have topped $130 billion, according to AccuWeather data, since the storm destroyed crops, caused power outages, disrupted the water supply and burst pipes. This outlier winter storm in usually-hot Texas was linked to the rapid Arctic warming

Mississippi


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  • Climate change threats: Extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding. 
  • Preparedness: Mississippi is ranked as a “least prepared state” by TFAH and receives an “F” from Climate Central. 
  • Primary public health risks: Hotter weather means more mosquito days, increasing risk of Zika across the state, according to Climate Central’s data. Dangerous heat days are projected to increase from 30 to more than 111 per year by 2050, elevating the risk of heatstroke and dehydration, especially among the 120,000 in the most vulnerable communities. Tinder-dry conditions and extreme heat also puts 57% of the state at a higher risk of wildfires, which come with the same public health risks as California (above).
  • Other key risks: States along the Mississippi River (dominated by river flooding and earthquake risk), are where some of the country’s highest-risk homes are located. Flooding threatens personal property across the state as an additional 13,000 residents — adding to the 75,000 at risk today — could be affected by rising seas, torrential rains and hurricanes, according to Climate Central’s data. And according to the National Weather Service, Mississippi had the most tornadoes last year despite the fact it’s not a “Tornado Alley” state, seeing 127 twisters touch down and 12 people die as a result.

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