If You Live in These States, It’s Time to Worry About Climate Change

A man on a rooftop looks at an approaching wildfire, possibly linked to climate change
A man on a rooftop looks at an approaching wildfire, possibly linked to climate change. | David McNew/Getty Images

There was a time when we watched movies, such as The Day After Tomorrow, simply for their entertainment value. Although we can still mostly get away with laughing those types of doomsday climate scenarios off, the prospect of climate change doing enormous damage is getting much more real. Cities are sinking. Hurricanes, droughts, and tornadoes are hitting with increased frequency. People are losing their belongings, livelihoods, and in some cases their lives. It’s a very real and very scary situation — one that should only ramp up as time marches on.

A new study published in the journal Science shows us where in the U.S. the most damage is likely to occur. The researchers measure “damage” from climate change in the resulting drop in GDP. The more afflicted the area, the bigger the economic downturn expected. This would happen for a number of reasons, from businesses being physically destroyed to people simply picking up and moving to other states. For example, if prolonged droughts set in, agricultural firms might need to pick up and settle elsewhere, bringing jobs and opportunities with them.

Using the Science study and a corresponding piece from The New York Times, here are the states (in no particular order) that are going to get hit the hardest in coming years by climate change.

1. New Mexico

We’ll begin out west, where the arid, dry desert states are in for some hurt. New Mexico, specifically, is likely to experience increased drought, which could in turn fuel more wild and forest fires and hurt agricultural operations across the state. And if things do get wet, the likelihood of dangerous flooding increases, too. The danger in New Mexico is mostly relegated to the southern portion of the state.

And it’s not the only Western state on our list.

2. Arizona

sign saying 122 degrees Fahrenheit and person holding umbrella to protect from sun in Phoenix
The weather in Phoenix already can be brutal. | Ralph Freso/Getty Images

As you can see in the photo above, the weather in Arizona can be downright otherworldly. Obviously, anyone who’s been to Phoenix can tell you it’s hot. But it could become much hotter as climate change sets in and further exacerbates weather patterns. There are only a couple of counties in Arizona that will be hit in severe fashion, but the state’s economy should brace for disruption.

Moving east, we come to one of the country’s economic powerhouses — one you shouldn’t mess with.

3. Texas

farmer in bare field
A farmer looks at what drought has done to his crops. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that seems primed to mess with Texas, it’s the climate. Texas is an enormous state that is home to millions of people and huge swaths of land, all of which would be impacted by shifting weather patterns. For Texans, that could mean any number of things — worsening droughts, hurricanes, thunderstorms and tornadoes, flooding, and more.

Continuing east, Katrina was just a precursor of what’s to come for folks in Cajun country.

4. Louisiana

A man boards up a New Orleans store front
A man boards up a New Orleans store front. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

When it comes to climate change, things look bad on the bayou. Louisiana sits in a particularly precarious position on the Gulf Coast — a portion of the state is actually below sea level. And with those levels rising, there’s a chance some of the state might actually sink. In fact, it’s already happening. Add in some increased likelihood of hurricanes and other severe storms, and Louisiana’s clearly in trouble.

The same goes for many other Southern states.

5. Mississippi

A crane searches for food in the Mississippi River floodwaters
A crane searches for food in the Mississippi River floodwaters. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s hot, muggy, and in many areas swampy. And climate change will not do the folks living in Mississippi any favors in coming decades. Like neighboring states, Mississippi is in harm’s way when it comes to climatic pattern shifts. The study predicts several counties across the state will see severe hits to their economies — areas already hard-hit by economic strife.

And the same goes for Mississippi’s neighbor Alabama.

6. Alabama

Drought strikes Alabama
Drought strikes Alabama. | Dave Martin/Getty Images

Alabama is more or less in the same position as Mississippi when it comes to climate change, according to the study. Every county in the state is expected to see damage to local GDP of at least 5%, with a couple of up to 20%. Again, in a part of the country already struggling with economic issues, this could be disastrous. Alabamans could be in for a rough ride.

We continue our eastward march now to Georgia.

7. Georgia

Drivers in Atlanta deal with a freak ice storm
Drivers in Atlanta deal with a freak ice storm. | Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

You don’t often think of blizzards when you hear the word “Atlanta.” But they do happen in Georgia — as do other freak weather events. Those events could become more standard in coming decades as our climate patterns change. The result? Rather devastating effects to the Georgia economy, as laid out by the study in Science. In Georgia specifically, the southern part of the state is predicted to see the worst of it.

The bad news spreads south of the South, too.

8. Florida

Aerial view of St. Johns River in Florida
St. Johns River in Florida | iStock.com/Arrangements-Photography

The highest point in Florida is only around 300 feet above sea level. That means even the slightest increase in sea level would be devastating to the state, which could see billions in real estate sink beneath the waves. Local economies would also be effectively sunk. The Science study shows more than 20 counties in Florida could see GDP drops of more than 15%.

Further up the Atlantic coast, the outlook gets a little rosier — but not by much.

9. South Carolina

A man paddles around during a flood in South Carolina
A man paddles around during a flood in South Carolina. | Sean Rayford/Getty Images

South Carolina, per the study, won’t be hit nearly as hard in coming years as Florida. But it’s still in for a tough time. The data shows there are no counties in South Carolina expected to be hit so hard that GDP is slashed by more than 15%. But 10% is much more likely in a good portion of the state. South Carolinians will need to watch out for stronger hurricanes and more flooding in years to come.

Now we switch gears and move back inland.

10. Arkansas

The sun rises behind debris that was left when a tornado hit Arkansas
The sun rises behind debris that was left when a tornado hit Arkansas. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Arkansas is yet another state in the South that is in some big trouble, according to the study. Many Arkansans are used to extreme weather in one form or another, but climate change could crank that up to “11.” More than half of the state’s counties are predicted to see their GDPs affected negatively, by anywhere from 5% to 10%. Only one county has hopes of seeing no change at all.

West of Arkansas, the predictions are the same.

11. Oklahoma

Homes damaged and destroyed by a tornado line a street in Moore, Oklahoma
Homes damaged and destroyed by a tornado line a street in Moore, Oklahoma. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Oklahoma is very flat and lies in the middle of “Tornado Alley.” That makes it a hotbed of severe weather, including intense thunderstorms and, of course, tornadoes. Add in flooding and droughts, and Oklahoma is in a precarious position when it comes to climate change. In the southeastern portion of the state, local economies are expected to suffer the most.

Next up is the home of the Titans and Predators.

12. Tennessee

The remains of a Jeep rental business smolders after a wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The remains of a Jeep rental business smolders after a wildfire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. | Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Tennessee has recently experienced some of the worst wildfires in its history. That might have only been a preview, unfortunately, as Tennessee is another state set to see some big problems as a result of climate change. Though the GDP predictions aren’t as alarming as in other states, most of Tennessee’s counties are expected to bleed in coming decades.

We move a little bit north now to another state that is likely to suffer economic strife.

13. Missouri

A resident holds a can of water donated by the Anheuser-Busch company in a drought-stricken area
A resident holds a can of water donated by Anheuser-Busch in a drought-stricken area. | David McNew/Getty Images

Missouri isn’t near the Gulf Coast or typically considered to be a part of the the South, but for the purposes of this study and list it might as well be. The state — particularly counties in the southeastern part — are predicted to see some serious economic damage due to changing weather patterns. The threat is less severe, but still very much real, in the state’s northern reaches.

Another economically disadvantaged state is also on tap for climate-related troubles.

14. Kentucky

A worker smokes a cigarette after harvesting a field of tobacco in Kentucky
A worker smokes a cigarette after harvesting a field of tobacco in Kentucky. | Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Like other states we’ve discussed, there are parts of Kentucky that are struggling mightily. And when you add climate change projections into the mix, they look downright doomed. Fortunately, the forecasts for Kentucky aren’t as dire as those in, say, Alabama or Mississippi. But there’s still some real hurt that’s bound to set in. The most severe hits should occur in the western part of the state.

Finally, we have a large and economically vibrant state.

15. California

a helicopter making a drop during a wildfire
A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop near Santa Clarita, California. | David McNew/Getty Images

You see it every summer. California inexplicably experiences some pretty severe droughts and then half of the state seems to catch on fire. Climate-related disasters like these aren’t going away anytime soon either. Parts of California should fare well. But the center of the state — the drier, more desert-like regions — is set for some economic decline.

See the complete study in Science.

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