John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
To get away from hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other calamities, relocate to lovely upstate New York or the fertile fields of Ohio.
Worried about wildfires? Deathly afraid of tornadoes? If you're an American with such insecurities, take heart that there are sanctuaries where the chances of being gobsmacked by a natural disaster are quite low. The price of relative safety, though, means relocating to somewhere like Akron, Ohio, or Michigan's unassuming Farmington Hills.
Upstate New York and Ohio are two of the regions where urban residents are least likely to encounter hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, forest fires and earthquakes, according to a new analysis conducted by Trulia. The online real-estate service has crunched federal-disaster data to create a series of local maps showing the worst cities to live in for weatherphobes and quake-haters – stay out of California metropolises if you fear having your home burnt down, for instance, and Oklahoma City is a terrible place to hunker if you don't want EF-4 twisters knocking at your door. Writes the Trulia team:
Most metros were high risk for at least one of the five natural disasters, even though no metro area is high risk for everything. Earthquakes and wildfires tend to go hand-in-hand, with California and other parts of the West at high risk for both. Hurricanes and flooding also tend to strike the same places, particularly in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Tornadoes affect much of the south-central U.S. What parts of the country are left? Not the Northeast coastal cities, which – as we all know after Hurricane Sandy – face hurricane and flood risk. Instead, the metros at medium-to-low risk for all five disasters span Ohio (Cleveland, Akron, and Dayton), upstate New York (Syracuse and Buffalo), and other parts of the Northeast and Midwest, away from the coasts.
These are maps that the Trulia engineers whipped up Thursday, showing their approximation of risk across the country for three disasters: earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Bonus points if you knew the Mississippi River ran near the New Madrid fault line, the source of a series of quakes in the early 1800s that caved in river banks, sunk entire islands and pushed boats far onto land:
So you've got your belongings tied to the roof of the car and a full tank of gas. Where should you head to avoid the next great storm? Here are the top 10 large housing markets in America that are most removed from "nature's wrath," according to the company's risk assessment (the prices refer to the average home-asking price per square foot):
- Syracuse, New York* ($89)
- Cleveland ($80)
- Akron, Ohio ($81)
- Buffalo ($93)
- Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Maryland ($174)
- Dayton, Ohio ($72)
- Allentown, Pennsylvania-New Jersey ($109)
- Chicago ($113)
- Denver ($129)
- Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, Michigan ($94)
(About that asterisk on Syracuse: Trulia says the "data on flood risk, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], is incomplete for Syracuse and for several other metros not on the ten lower-risk list.")
Of course, there's no such thing as zero risk when it comes to natural disasters. Western New York hasn't had loads of tornadoes historically, but one that hit in 1993 wound up killing two people. That could be you! And a city that's a safe harbor from hurricanes and flooding isn't immune to other meteorological hassles, like drifts of snow huge enough to bury a car (ahem, Chicago, Syracuse, et al.), or in the D.C. area, a walloping derecho.
On this list, at least, the "safest" metropolitan areas are also fairly friendly on the homeowner's wallet, save for Bethesda. Here is Trulia's take on the meaning of that geographical quirk:
Do people pay more to live near natural hazards because they like to live on the edge? Of course not. Disaster-prone areas happen to be expensive for other reasons, not because people want to pay more to live there. The most expensive metros in the country are in California and Hawaii – both of which are at a higher risk for earthquakes even though the weather is a natural blessing that helps keep housing demand (and prices) high. Coastal cities tend, on average, to be more expensive than the interior of the country, in part because a coastal location has historically been an economic advantage – and coastal locations obviously are at higher risk for flooding. Of the five natural disasters that we looked at, only tornadoes regularly tend to hit cheaper metros more often than pricier metros.