News | Tech: We asked insurance workers where they'd live in the US to avoid future natural disasters — here’s what they said

Tech: We asked insurance workers where they'd live in the US to avoid future natural disasters — here’s what they said

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Hurricane Michael recently made landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast, before making its way toward Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Already, the storm has killed at least two people and left hundreds of thousands more without power.

As experts draw comparisons to Hurricane Katrina, the world is reminded yet again of the extreme devastation made possible by climate change.

Scientists have uncovered mounting evidence that climate change influences major events like heat waves, droughts, and heavy rains, which have become more frequent and severe.

According to a new report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world's temperatures could escalate to catastrophic levels by 2040. The resulting damage could trigger a $54 trillion global economic loss and force many to migrate from their homes.

Where can people go to avoid these financial and physical impacts?

We put the question to a group of actuaries, who use statistics to determine economic risk. The following are their picks for the "least risky" cities when it comes to the effects of climate-related disasters.

Many of them highlighted coastal locations, which they found less vulnerable to extreme temperature changes. Others preferred Midwestern areas, given the escalating concerns about sea level rise. The majority warned against locating on the Southeast coast, where Hurricane Michael is currently wreaking havoc.

While no area is impervious to disaster, a home in one of these cities could be a relatively safe investment.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesotaplay

Minneapolis, Minnesota


To determine climate-based financial risk, many insurance workers turn to the Actuary Climate Index, a tool for measuring extreme changes in temperature, wind speed, drought levels, precipitation, and sea level. (It's kind of like the Consumer Price Index for climate change.)

The tool is a collaborative effort from four actuarial societies in North America, who plan to release a new index by the end of the year that takes into account vulnerable populations and property.

Based on these considerations, Minneapolis qualifies as a "relatively risk-free" city, said Doug Collins, the chair of the Climate Index Working Group. Not only is it less vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, but its summers also tend to avoid persistent heat.

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maineplay

Portland, Maine

(Jeff Gunn/Flickr)

"Climate risks are relatively low here," Collins said of Maine, the state where he currently lives. When asked which city in Maine is the least vulnerable, he points to Portland, the one with the largest population. While Portland may eventually be vulnerable to sea level rise, Collins said these changes are likely to affect those closest to the water as opposed to the many homes on the western side.

His choice is echoed in the research of Kristy Dahl and Astrid Caldas, two senior climatologists at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). After studying the number of homes exposed to frequent high-tide flooding, the scientists found that coastal Maine had less property risk compared to most coastal states.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City, Utahplay

Salt Lake City, Utah


Those looking to avoid the more devastating effects of climate change should consider a home near a lake in a mountainous region, said Chandu Patel, a fellow at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). Lakes provide access to water in the advent of a drought, and a high elevation makes residents less vulnerable to sea level rise.

One community that meets these qualifications is Salt Lake City — a place considered by Collins to be relatively low-risk. In September, the city took an active step toward resiliency by hosting a global climate action summit. It's also one of four local governments in Utah to pledge to achieve 100% renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinoisplay

Chicago, Illinois

(Helen Sessions/Alamy)

Great Lakes states are often seen as less risky when it comes to climate change, said Rick Gorvett, a staff actuary at CAS — one of the four groups involved in the Actuary Climate Index.

Like Minneapolis, Chicago's northern location protects it from sea level rise and helps mitigate issues of extreme heat. Its proximity to Lake Michigan may also be useful in times of drought. In 2016, the city was dubbed "the place to be" when it came to avoiding climate-related disasters.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsinplay

Madison, Wisconsin

(Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Wisconsin may be known for its cold temperatures, but it's expected to get warmer in the coming years, according to research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. By mid-century, scientists predict that the city's annual average temperature will increase by 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit, while the number of days with sub-zero temperatures will decrease by two to three weeks.

According to Gorvett, however, the main concern for Midwestern states isn't temperature — it's drought. On this scale, the city of Madison is considered relatively low-risk. Along with other nearby cities, it has witnessed fewer extreme weather conditions over the last fifty-plus years.

San Diego, California

San Diego, Californiaplay

San Diego, California

(Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

Temperature is one of the most important factors to consider when evaluating climate risk, said Dale Hall, the managing research director at the Society of Actuaries, which also contributed to Climate Index.

On this scale, few places compare to San Diego, which has perhaps the most pristine weather conditions of any US city. By the end of the century, researchers predict that San Diego will gain three days of mild weather per year.

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, Californiaplay

Santa Barbara, California


Santa Barbara may seem like a strange place to avoid risk, given its history of wildfires, but few cities can compete with its amiable temperatures, said Hall.

When it comes to analyzing a disaster, he said, "anything that's hard to predict has more risk associated with it." In Santa Barbara's case, temperatures are fairly consistent year-round.

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Coloradoplay

Denver, Colorado


All disasters considered, Denver is perhaps the least risky financial choice. In addition to its high elevation, the city is situated far from the coast, making it less vulnerable to sea level rise. According to Hall, it also demonstrates fewer fluctuations in temperature and is not prone to extreme winds.

These conditions also apply to the nearby city of Boulder, which is included among the preferred locations for climate scientists.

While both cities will have to contend with drought, they've each come up with a plan to monitor water usage and prevent future shortages.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizonaplay

Phoenix, Arizona

(Gregory E. Clifford/Shutterstock)

Though its weather may be stifling at times, Phoenix's inland location and mountainous terrain are major advantages when it comes to fending off sea level rise. Like Denver, the city also exhibits fairly consistent temperatures and less extreme winds.

But there's one major caveat: The city's main water sources are drying up, creating conditions for extreme drought. Sociologist Andrew Ross has even dubbed Phoenix "the least sustainable city in the world."

This points to the complicated nature of predicting financial risk — particularly when it comes to climate change. While the Climate Index uses temperature as a starting point, followed by four other indicators, there are a myriad of factors that influence a city's susceptibility to disaster.

In the end, Collins said, "the economic impacts of climate change will affect everyone."

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By Kwame Ntow 12/10/2018 11:52:00