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New analysis finds 'tipping point' that spurs neighborhood exodus — and millions of Americans have already been affected

"There appear to be clear winners and losers …"

"There appear to be clear winners and losers ..."

Photo Credit: iStock

Rising temperatures have increased the risk of destructive natural disasters, including floods.  Research has shown that many people, despite the danger, move into risky areas like floodplains because it's cheaper to buy housing there. 

However, Bloomberg reported in mid-December that a close look at America's neighborhoods revealed that people are moving away from the most flood-prone areas.

What's happening?

The new analysis was performed by the First Street Foundation, a data nonprofit focused on the effects of rising global temperatures. The findings were published in December in Nature Communications, as reported by Bloomberg. 

First Street looked at the most specific population data available: the U.S. Census Bureau's information on individual census blocks between 2000 and 2020. First Street analyzed movement into and out of specific neighborhoods, controlling for factors like the quality of schools that could influence decisions to move there.

It found that 3.2 million Americans have moved away from areas at risk of floods during this time period. However, most didn't move very far — shifting to a different neighborhood rather than a different city — so data about the migration didn't show up in broader studies.

Why do these numbers matter?

According to Bloomberg, First Street found that there is a tipping point. When 5-10% of homes are at risk, otherwise stable neighborhoods start to lose residents, and communities that were growing slow down or stop altogether.

This is a smart move for individuals trying to reduce their flood risk. However, the departures can affect those still living in the neighborhood.

"There appear to be clear winners and losers in regard to the impact of flood risk on neighborhood-level population change," Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications research at First Street, told Bloomberg. 

"The downstream implications of this are massive and impact property values, neighborhood composition, and commercial viability, both positively and negatively," he added. 

What can I do to protect myself?

If you're moving, consider the risk of natural disasters. FEMA has a tool that shows whether the location you're looking at is in a floodplain, while Risk Factor can help with other dangerous conditions like wildfires and hurricanes.  

As this study highlights, disasters can impact property values in the long term. And while warming global temperatures have made extreme weather more frequent and severe, mindful choices about the way we use electricity, water, and gas can help reduce pollution contributing to the issue. 

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