Despite the mounting risk of climate change, U.S. counties that are most prone to weather disasters are seeing an influx of new residents, while those that are least vulnerable to extreme weather are seeing an exodus, according to a new analysis by the real estate firm Redfin.
“People have been gravitating to places with severe climate risk because many of these areas are relatively affordable, have lower property taxes, more housing options, or access to nature,” said Redfin economist Sebastian Sandoval-Olascoaga. “For a lot of people, these benefits seem to outweigh the dangers of climate change. But as natural disasters become more frequent, homeowners in these areas may end up losing property value or face considerable difficulty getting their properties insured against environmental disasters.”
Using data gathered from climate risk startup ClimateCheck, county property records, and the U.S. Census Bureau, Redfin determined that, from 2016 through 2020, the 50 counties most prone to heat, drought, fire, floods, and storms saw more people come than go. By contrast, in the 50 counties with the lowest climate risk, average population declined.
In recent years, states in the South and West — such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona — have been drawing newcomers, even as heat waves, fires, and floods grow more severe. For instance, Williamson County, Texas, part of the greater Austin area, is both the fastest-growing county and the county with the greatest heat risk.
“Williamson County includes many of the Austin suburbs that have seen exponential growth as more folks have moved in from outside the area — especially California — in search of more space and relative affordability,” said Redfin real estate agent Barb Cooper, who is based in the Austin area. “Homebuyers in Williamson County sometimes ask about utility costs — especially after the major power outage caused by the snowstorm this winter — but they don’t seem too concerned about the heat.”