Ask Umbra: Where’s the best place to ride out climate change?
Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
If you assume the Greenland ice shelf falls in the ocean, and ditto in Antarctica, and that the Southwest United States runs out of water, where would be the place to move before doomsday? I am thinking Maine or Vermont, along the coast, but more than 20 feet above sea level. I am looking for a sort of “best places” to retire for survivalists. Your thoughts?
A. Dearest Amy,
Believe it or not, I answered a question similar to yours a few years ago, from a fellow in Belgium. After careful consideration, I advised him that Europe was the place to be. As it happened, I was feeling down on the U.S. after the botched response to Hurricane Katrina. I’m also something of a Europhile. I can’t help it — the countries are so tiny and proximate! The pastries are so good!
But your question is U.S.-focused, as are most of my dearest readers, so I am going to take another crack at this climate conundrum.
You have correctly identified two areas to avoid in our climate-addled future: The coasts, due to sea-level rise, and the Southwest, due to drought. I am assuming you also consider your part of the country one that should be escaped, perhaps because of the insane, climate change-fueled tornadoes, and indeed we must rule out much of the Midwest on that basis. I think the Southeast is out because of insane, climate change-fueled hurricanes, and we want to avoid most of California on account of drought and earthquakes. By the way, here is a colorful, eye-opening map that overlays tornado, hurricane, and earthquake risks across the country.
So that leaves us with four broad options: Alaska, the inland Northwest, the inland Northeast, and the Upper Midwest. Now we turn to a nifty tool: this series of climate-effect maps from the Natural Resources Defense Council. I could spend hours poking around here, coming up for air only to thank the people who put it together (and maybe gulp down some water and a handful of crackers). These are U.S. maps, clickable at the state level, that illustrate extreme heat days, air pollution and allergy threats, drought and flood vulnerability, extreme weather events, and even vulnerability to dengue fever. You can drill down to find out more about each state’s risks, as well as its climate preparedness plans.
So let’s look at our four contenders. According to these maps, interior Alaska is having more extreme heat days than expected, and much of the state is prone to flooding. Plus there are the oil-spill risks, offshore and on land. I’m crossing it off. The inland Northwest seems to be having lots of extreme heat days as well, and is surprisingly vulnerable to drought, but does well on most other counts. The inland Northeast kind of tanks on allergies, flooding, extreme weather, and even dengue fever risk here and there (yikes), although northernmost Maine is an exception. In the Upper Midwest, we lose points on the flooding and extreme rain fronts, but I have identified two magical pockets that might just be our winners: north-central Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Of course, you can’t get too close to the shores of the Great Lakes, what with the predicted erosion and all.
So, using the patented Umbra Broad Brush, that leaves us with four areas to consider: Montana, Maine, Minnesota, or … Misconsin. You’ll have to poke around to see what suits your fancy up there. To my mind, a small city like Wausau or Memonomie seems ideal, with a blend of outdoor fun and active downtown-iness, but you might go for the lights of Minneapolis-St. Paul or a rustic cabin north of nowhere. It all depends how survivalist you’re trying to get.
Of course, I welcome alternative ideas and spirited defenses of place from all of you. I also hope you’ll consider being part of Connect the Dots Day on May 5, when people around the world will show that climate is hitting home everywhere, for every one of us.