With daily news reports about the Amazon and Siberian forests enjoying a robust summer burn, it is difficult not to feel a little anxiety about what the future may hold. As the planet warms, sea levels rise, droughts increase, and erratic weather continues, how will different parts of the world be affected? A new study tries to analyze which U.S. cities are best positioned to weather whatever strange weather the changing climate will bring, and it arrives at some surprising conclusions.
The study was completed by Eylul Tekin, a PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis’ Memory Lab, who is working in a company called Clever Real Estate’s research department. I bring this up at the top because I was recently critical of the many pseudo-studies proliferated by companies looking to drum up attention for their brands. But this study appears to be a little more systematic than most. It draws from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, which includes “risk and readiness” scores for 270 U.S. cities as well as information about the probability of climate-related disasters occurring in those cities in 2040.
Tekin took that data for the largest 100 U.S. cities and created a metric that weighted both the cities best prepared to withstand climate-related catastrophe (excessive cold, heat, flood, drought, and sea-level rise) and the likeliness of the severity of weather-related disasters. It’s that second part of the equation that that seems to have helped North Texas’ cities scores. Drought and heat are the biggest climate-related threats North Texas will have to adapt to, and those do not pose the same existential threat as rising sea levels. The cities on the bottom of this new list tend to be coastal places, and Florida in particular.
In terms of readiness, Plano came in third thanks, in part, to what the study found to be a lower risk of severe flooding. Dallas, surprisingly, ranked much lower on the list, and it even came in lower than Houston, which I would think is more vulnerable to the threat of large-scale rain events and flooding. But it was another North Texas city that the study found to be most at risk for flooding: Irving, which ranked third behind two Florida cities. But if flooding in Irving is supposed to be so bad, then why not Dallas too? After all, much of the entire region’s storm water runs down the Trinity Watershed through Dallas.
That apparent discrepancy is odd enough to cast some skepticism on the accuracy or value of this study. Still, the study is curious enough to warrant a perusal. I’d challenge climate curious readers to dig into Notre Dame’s source data to try to answer some of these questions. The Notre Dame data even allows you to drill into a neighborhood-level analysis of potential climate impact.
And while I can’t piece together some of the evidence for the study’s findings on specific cities, the key findings seem to hold water:
- The cities that are most vulnerable to climate change hazards are also the least prepared for them
- Coastal cities have higher risk scores relative to inland cities, meaning they are more vulnerable to climate change-related hazards
- Extreme heat is more likely to impact cities in Florida and the Midwest because they’re at higher risk of heat waves and are more vulnerable to relative humidity
- Floods are more likely to impact cities in California and Texas because they are near large river basins
- Eastern and southern coastal cities are more likely to be affected by sea-level rise compared to western coastal cities
- Somewhat counter-intuitively, extreme cold is more likely to negatively impact cities in warmer states like Texas and California because they lack the requisite infrastructure