Seventeen years ago, when Adriana Nichols moved from New York City to Los Angeles, she had a simple wish list: natural light (her New York studio apartment was dark), a yard and quiet neighbors. She managed to check everything off that list — and has spent nearly two decades living in the canyons of LA.
But today, as she looks to move again with her husband, her requirements have changed. “It is profoundly a different wish list. A place where we have [running] water, where we are not… having bags packed in case fires evacuate us,” said Nichols. In the last few years, Nichols says the California wildfires and poor air quality make living there unappealing — and downright scary.
But she says nearly everyplace she looks to move to is experiencing some element of climate risk. And a new analysis by Redfin, a real estate brokerage, reveals more Americans are moving into areas that face the highest climate risks than ever before. Redfin analyzed data from ClimateCheck, a real estate climate risk assessment provider, and the US Census, which showed that of the top 50 US counties facing climate risks in heat, storms, drought, flood and fire — the majority saw an increase in population over the last five years. Counties with homes facing the highest heat risk saw populations increase by an average of 4.7% over the last five years. Counties with homes facing high drought risk saw population growth of 3.5%, fire risk counties grew by 3%, flood 1.9%, and storm 0.4% over the last five years.
Meanwhile, places with relatively low climate risks have experienced population declines. The 50 counties with the lowest number of homes facing heat risk, for example, saw a population loss of 1.4% in the last five years, according to Redfin. Counties around New York City and Chicago — both in states that were already leading the US in population decline — only lost more people during the pandemic when homebuyers left metro areas in exodus, according to Redfin. “Counterintuitively, people are moving to places with higher climate risk,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “And it seems like climate, although it’s something that people care about, is at the bottom of the list or it’s not the top priority.”