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Published on April 12th, 2016 | by Sandy Dechert


US Climate Change Risks & Preparedness, State-By-State

April 12th, 2016 by  

Wondering how prepared your state is for upcoming changes in climate? If you’re in Texas, you might be in for trouble. This week, Climate Central unveiled the first-ever national analysis of state-level preparedness for climate change-driven, weather-related threats.

States at risk header

States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card summarizes the changing nature of key threats and the corresponding levels of preparedness in each of the 50 states:

“For over a century weather events have become more extreme, turning normal fluctuations into long-term climate trends. Today, heavy rains increasingly pound northeastern states, the southwest is in a long term drying pattern, the western wildfire season is 60 days longer, rising seas compound damaging coastal storms, and the Southeast and Gulf Coast states are on the verge of exceeding critical heat thresholds that seriously endanger human health.”

The report’s goal is to galvanize state action regarding climate change. Researchers assigned school-style letter grades to each location based on three criteria:

  • State assessment and public awareness of the threats,
  • Plans being formed, and
  • Plan implementation.

California, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, which have already begun to take action, proved to be the superstar states.

State climate risk and preparedness scores (assets.statesatrisk.org)

Each analysis used extensive online data and interviews to cover five sectors critical to modern society everywhere:

  • Transportation,
  • Energy,
  • Water,
  • Human Health, and
  • Communities.

The study stopped with the comparative risk analysis. Decisions about which actions make the most sense remain for each state’s officials, who have the deepest knowledge of current conditions and bear the political and legal responsibility for the results.

The report notes that across the USA, all five of the major threats—extreme heat, drought, wildfires, inland flooding, and coastal flooding—are increasing as world climate changes due to rapid human industrialization. They pose significant and increasing risks to people and to the world economy. Because the problems already in motion will continue to grow for many decades—even if we could initiate drastic measures today—states and nations need to prepare now for coming weather extremes and climate change risks. Here’s the summary map:

Map of US state climate risk and preparedness scores (assets.statesatrisk.org)

Richard Wiles, senior vice president of Climate Central, summarizes the broad conclusions of the study:

“The states that did really poorly [those with the greatest risks and no preparedness analyses so far] could take some very simple steps to improve. Even a basic assessment of the threat would be a step forward for some of these states.”

The report finds that with a few exceptions (notably Texas, the Lone Star state), states are “reasonably well prepared” for current disasters. Very few have prepared for anticipated future changes, however. Following are state data for impacts and climate change risks sorted by prevalence of each risk factor.

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat affects every state, and all states are least prepared for this climate change eventuality. In the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast, the combination of heat and humidity is projected to cross thresholds dangerous for human health within the next 10 years. By 2050:

  • 11 states are projected to have an additional 50 or more heat wave days per year,
  • 2 states will have an additional 60 or more heat wave days per year, and
  • Florida is projected to have 80 heat wave days each year.

Only seven states have taken strong measures to prepare for extreme heat risks.

Inland Flooding

More than half (17) of all 32 states assessed for inland flooding risk have taken no planning actions or implemented any strategies to address climate-related flood risks. Florida and California have the largest populations living in the FEMA floodplain and vulnerable to inland flooding (1.5 million and 1.3 million, respectively). Georgia is third, with over half a million (570,000) people.


Wildfire affects 24 states, seriously menacing four: Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada, where more than 35 million people live in the high-threat wildland border zone. In the East, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia combine to put another 15 million people at risk of wildfire; and a group of other southeastern states (Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) all face above-average increases by 2050. The report states that current preparedness for wildfires is very high, which is debatable, especially in terms of the superblazes of the 21st century. Readiness for future climate-driven wildfires is very low. Fifteen of the states analyzed lack climate adaptation plans that include wildfires.

Coastal Flooding

Half the states in the nation (48%) also face enormous coastal flooding threats, with Florida and Louisiana risks by far the greatest. In Florida, 4.6 million people will live in the 100-year coastal floodplain by 2050. Louisiana, with 1.2 million, is far better prepared (B-). Despite huge current and future dangers, Florida has only an average level of readiness and earned an F for readiness to cope with coastal floods.

Summer Drought

Texas currently faces a much higher overall summer drought threat than any other state. By 2050, however, nine states (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas again, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington) will have greater summer drought threats than Texas does today. Ironically, Texas scored a D- on the preparedness tests. Montana failed entirely. Colorado, Washington, and Michigan are reasonably well prepared and earned Bs or higher.

See the report for details on the state-by-state rankings of climate change risks. 


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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

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