Climate change is leading many Americans to look for new places to live

In a year of mounting extreme weather disasters linked to climate change, more and more Americans say they are experiencing the adverse consequences of global warming and are looking to move to find relief.

For Leslie Woz, who has lived with her husband in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., for the past nine years and endured three hurricanes, the steady erosion of the coastal dunes because of rising sea levels and storm frequency has become a concern.

"The talk of rising seas is true, and we see the sea encroaching more each year," Woz told Yahoo News. "As a result, we are very happy that we chose to rent and not buy on the beach. We would like to move to an area that would not have as much risk, but quite frankly, looking at the options across the country — with tornadoes, drought, wildfires, ice storms — we just are not sure where to go."

As rising global temperatures increase the risks of drought and wildfires across the West, severe hurricanes along much of the coastal South and East, and widespread deadly heat waves, a significant number of U.S. residents have begun to contemplate moving to escape worsening living conditions due to climate change.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted between July 30 and Aug. 2 found that a clear majority of Americans (55 percent) say they have noticed more extreme weather events where they live (heat waves, fires, storms, etc.), while just 37 percent say they have not. Of those who have noticed extreme weather in their area, a full 15 percent say they are considering the drastic step of moving elsewhere because of it.

Vehicles cautiously drive through floodwaters on I-94 following a severe storm system that caused flash flooding on main roadways in Detroit.
Floodwaters on I-94 in Detroit following a severe storm system. (Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

"I feel like I'm going to just die; it's so hot, I don't think I'm going to make it through this one. Every summer is worse — hotter than the last," Tombstone, Ariz., resident Chapo Thomas told Yahoo News, adding, "Last summer my family and I took a vacation to Las Vegas, and even though it's not much cooler there than here, it just seems a lot better. I'm not sure how seriously I'm planning to move, but I think about moving to Las Vegas all the time."

Nikki Erickson, who lives in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, said rising temperatures are also affecting her bottom line.

"The Southern California summers are getting hotter, the winters are getting dryer, fires are more frequent, and I have been evacuated from my home before, and it is not fun," Erickson said. "The electric bills are going up as a result of these extreme temperatures. The water bills are going up because there is no rain."

A fire-damaged street sign marks Main Street in a decimated downtown Greenville, California.
Fire damage in Greenville, Calif., after the Dixie Fire moved through on Aug. 5. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

The average surface temperature in the lower 48 U.S. states has risen by an average of 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1901, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, but the rate of that warming has sped up dramatically since the late 1970s.

"The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important — the important things are the long-term trends."

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent assessment laid bare, the window of opportunity for humanity to slow the rise of global temperatures and avert the worst consequences of climate change is quickly closing, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called the situation "code red for humanity."

"The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible," Guterres said in a statement. "The internationally agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close."

A mobile home park devastated by Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, Fla., in 2004.
A mobile home park devastated by Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, Fla., in 2004. (Pierre Ducharme/Reuters)

Since the dawn of the industrial age, average global temperatures have risen 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), and while that may not seem like much, it has already had a profound impact on extreme weather events worldwide. This summer's extreme weather in the U.S. has proved to be a wake-up call for many Americans, and there is virtually no part of the country now where climate migration hasn't become a topic of conversation.

"It is much hotter here than it used to be. We had 100-degree temperatures earlier in the summer than we usually have," Karen Gale of Wichita, Kan., told Yahoo News. "Now that I am 65, I definitely am more bothered by the heat, and that curtails outdoor yard work."

But like many people lucky enough to have the means to be able to consider relocating, Gale is also at a loss about where she should go.

"I would love to move to a coastal town when my husband retires, but I am concerned high-water storms and hurricanes will ruin property values wherever we would go," she said. "Our son is in Alexandria, Va., and his basement has flooded three times in two summers — waist deep! My sister in Ft. Myers [Fla.] had fish in her street a few years ago, two weeks before a hurricane, and the rainstorm caused more trouble than the hurricane."

Utah resident Alex Sousa said the new weather patterns that climate scientists have linked to rising temperatures have made him consider relocating to the New England area.

"In the last 10 or 15 years, it has just been getting hotter. It's a desert anyway, so we always had hot summers, but it has just been getting worse," Sousa told Yahoo News. "We used to get thunderstorms that would help break the heat, but for years we haven't had any decent ones. Now we just get forest fires. We've been in a drought for close to a decade."

Even for those who can afford it, moving to try to outrun climate change isn't an easy decision for many people.

"Each summer here seems to get hotter and hotter, with less rain as well. It's now rare to see more than a few inches of snow when it gets cold. It has been replaced by rain and even colder winters," said Riley Wright of Mount Vernon, Wash. "I have thought about moving somewhere else with a more consistent and comfortable climate with less extreme events, but I have not put too much thought into it. I love the beautiful area where I live and the Pacific Northwest. It's my home, and I don't want to leave it."


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