Americans are flocking to wildfire country

Over the past decade, a large influx of Americans has traveled to areas where climate change is making wildfires and extreme heat more common, according to an analysis of multiple datasets conducted at the University of Vermont (UVM).

Generally, Americans migrated to cities and suburbs in the Pacific Northwest, parts of the Southwest (in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah), Texas, Florida, and parts of the Southeast (including Nashville, Atlanta and Washington, DC), according to the study.

According to the study, people have left the Midwest, Great Plains, and some of the counties hardest hit by the storms along the Mississippi River.

“Our main finding is that people seem to be moving to counties with the highest wildfire risk, as well as cities and suburbs with relatively hot summers. This is concerning because wildfires and Heat waves are expected to become more dangerous with climate change,” Mahalia Clark, lead author of the study, told CNBC.

Areas where more people move in than move out are red. Areas with more people leaving the area than in the blue area.

Chart courtesy of the University of Vermont

“We hope our research will raise people’s awareness of wildfires and other climate risks when moving or buying a home, as many people may not be aware of these risks,” he said. Clark told CNBC. “People tend to see wildfire as something that affects the West, but it also affects large areas of the South and even the Midwest.”

For the study, Clark used multiple datasets, which includes net migration estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, a grid-based Surface Meteorological (gridMET) dataset hosted on the Google Earth Engine Data Catalog, and land cover data clouds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The The study was published on Thursday in the magazine Borders in Human Dynamics.

Making decisions about where to live could be one of the first ramifications of climate change affecting people’s personal lives.

“People also tend to see climate change as something that will affect our children and grandchildren, but its impact has been seen in the form of frequent heatwaves, hurricanes and wildfires. and more severe, and it’s important to take these impacts into account as we plan for the future, both as individuals and as a society,” Clark told CNBC.

Deciding where to move and which home to buy is a complex decision and everyone must weigh their personal decisions based on work, family and culture, but Clark urges everyone to understand the trade-offs. .

“It is possible that bushfire-prone areas are attractive for other reasons (strong economy, pleasant climate, dramatic scenery with outdoor recreation opportunities) and fire risks.” forests are perceived as insufficient to outweigh these other benefits,” Clark told CNBC. “People moving from out of state may also be unaware of the risks. On the other hand, sometimes high-risk areas are more affordable, creating an unfortunate incentive for people to move. arrive there.”

Wildfire probability, heatwave frequency, and hurricane frequency across the US.

Chart courtesy of the University of Vermont

Local governments could also play a part, Clark said.

“Development in bushfire-prone areas can actually exacerbate the risk, as increased human activity can trigger more fires, so a sense in the work Our view is that city planners may need to consider discouraging new development in places where there is the highest fire risk or difficulty with fire fighting,” Clark told CNBC. At a minimum, policymakers should work to raise public awareness and prepare and plan for fire prevention and response resources in high-risk areas. high muscle with high population growth rate.”

The University of Vermont’s findings are “quite consistent with what we’ve seen over the past 20 years with two census cycles of population growth in the Pacific Northwest.” Jesse M. Keenanone professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University, told CNBC.

Climate change is playing a role in increasing the number of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest as the region is increasingly drier.

“Basically, as it heats up in the atmosphere, you pull moisture, water out of the atmosphere, and that pulls it out of the biomass. So basically everything becomes dry,” Keenan said. go and therefore you have more fuel”.

Keenan said insurers are realizing this and are pricing fire risk in the Pacific Northwest in ways they didn’t before.

But homebuyers also need to carefully consider the climate risks associated with the location in which they are considering buying a new home. Keenan is a consultant for a company called Check the climate helps identify these types of risks, but real estate websites now include “climate risk” factors such as flood factors, hurricane risk, drought risk, heat risk, and fire risk fire on listing pages.

These types of tools are useful, but not perfect, Keenan says. Some of them come down to common sense.

“If you live in a place with lots of trees near you, anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, you are at risk of bushfires,” says Keenan.

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