Nearly two-thirds of properties in Riverside are expected to be at risk from wildfires as climate change worsens over the next 30 years.
Los Angeles and Anaheim are most at risk to be hurt by by drought during that time, while San Bernardino residents face the most elevated risk among major Southern California cities for extreme heat as the planet continues to warm up.
These projections are part of a new database from Berkeley-based ClimateCheck Inc. The firm — a partnership between data, climate science and real estate experts — aims to drive home the effects of the global climate crisis by quantifying the potential risks posed to specific properties, cities and states, and then sharing those assessments with the public.
Among other things, the data shows that people and homes in California will be at a higher risk to be harmed by climate-related heat waves, drought and fire through at least 2050.
But the data also offers detailed and specific risk assessments. Residents can enter an address on the firm’s website and get a score, on a scale of 1 to 100, that describes and measures the potential for various climate-related risks for that property.
Real estate firms such as Redfin are picking up that data, and the company now includes ClimateCheck Risk Rating scores along with traditional housing market information, such as local school quality and neighborhood walkability, for its property listings.
“A home is the biggest financial investment most of us will ever make,” Redfin spokesperson Angela Cherry said. “Who doesn’t want to go into that with their eyes wide open, understanding all the possible risks?”
Statewide ClimateCheck risk scores also are available for all of the lower 48 states, with some interesting comparison points for California. And, starting Oct. 1, data for more than 300 cities nationwide will go live.
Southern California News Group got a sneak peek at data for cities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The reports show vast discrepancies in risks even between neighboring cities, and they offer tips for preventing and adapting to climate change.
Climate change has been seen as a global problem, viewed through the prism of large-scale natural disasters such as melting ice caps. It’s only recently been viewed as a practical issue, too, with climate change now linked to everything from wildfires that wipe out homes to heat waves that drive up hospitalizations and deaths.
Assessing climate risk, and using it in practical ways, isn’t entirely new. Big real estate firms and other companies have tracked climate data and used it to make investment decisions for some time, said Annie Preston, data science lead with ClimateCheck. Her firm’s primary focus, in fact, is to service such corporate customers, with options to buy climate risk reports in bulk or to have their experts monitor the risks connected to a portfolio of properties.
But company founder Cal Inman also wanted to make climate information available, for free, to the average resident and business owner. And Inman wanted to communicate that information in a way that would let people see how their climate risks compares with similar risks faced in other communities.
To get there, ClimateCheck aggregates current and historic data from a variety of sources. Its experts — who include a climate scientist from UCLA, a water expert from Cal State Sacramento and a former Zillow executive, among others — then apply the latest climate models for each hazard area to forecast how potential hazards, such as the number of extremely hot days or the length and severity of droughts, are expected to change over the next few decades.
The goal, Preston said, is to help people make informed choices about where to live or set up shop, and be better prepared for the challenges that climate change will create. The firm also hopes its forecasts will be used by local governments when making decisions about issues such as disaster planning and where to permit new homebuilding.
Ultimately, Preston said, the hope is everyone will be motivated to take steps to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One way they’re trying to do that is by offering long-range risk projections for each property based on two different scenarios, one based on how the climate might change if greenhouse gases aren’t curbed and another based what might happen if greenhouse gases are stabilized through sweeping policy-driven changes.
For example, if greenhouse gases continue to rise at current rates, people living in Corona’s historic district might see 35 days a year with temperatures in excess of 98.5 degrees by 2060. But if some climate action is enacted, the number of dangerous heat days drops to 28.
A home in Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood faces a water stress score that’s 11% higher by 2060 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And a home in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon, which has a fire risk score of 96, will see 17 days a year with extreme fire risk vs. 15 days if substantial changes are made.
Though they’re often asked how such information might affect insurance rates, Preston said they haven’t yet partnered with any insurance firms. She said there still seems to be some hesitancy in that arena from making decisions based on projections, despite widespread agreement among most scientists about the trends and risks of a warming climate.
Risks vary widely
As climate change gets worse we can expect to see more climate migration, with people forced to move because of drought, flooding or fires. Increasingly, Preston said, her firm is hearing from people who are concerned about climate issues and have a simple question: Where should I live?
Among the California cities analyzed so far by ClimateCheck, the highest risks are faced by properties in Los Angeles.
Though the state’s largest city didn’t rank at the top in any one category, it scored 84 out of 100 for drought risk vs. a statewide score of 33, and it shows above-average danger from storms, with 27% of buildings in the city at risk of flooding. Also, in Los Angeles, the long-term climate risks linked to fire and extreme heat are substantial. In a typical year between 1985 and 2005, for example, Los Angeles residents experienced about eight days a year that were hotter than 92.7 degrees; by 2050, that’s expected to jump to 27.
Conditions are only slightly less risky in Anaheim, the biggest city in Orange County. The data shows that in coming decades nearly a third (29%) of the buildings in Anaheim are at risk for drought, heat, fire and storms.
In San Bernardino, the biggest climate risk is heat. Between 1985 and 2005, temperatures in the city topped 102.5 degrees about eight days a year. But by 2050, the city is projected to experience well over a month worth of days above that temperature.
Statewide, the long-term climate risk is relatively low in Bakersfield. The Kern County city had the lowest overall risk among cities Climate Check analyzed, with lowest scores in the storm, fire and flood risk categories.
San Francisco had the lowest risk for heat, while Sacramento had the lowest risk for drought.
Sacramento had the highest risk for flooding, though. Fresno topped the heat risk category, while San Francisco faces the biggest storm risk, San Diego the highest risk from drought conditions and San Jose the highest risk from fire.
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But for California overall, despite our reputation for catastrophic wildfires, the chances of actually having your home or business burn down are lower than in 10 other states, including Utah, Idaho and Colorado. Preston said that’s because homes in those places are more likely to be much closer to wildland areas. In terms of lowest fire risk, Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island take the prize.
But in terms of drought, California rates as the 10th riskiest, after states such as Arizona and Wyoming. The lowest drought risk is in Mississippi and Illinois.
California ranks at No. 32 for heat risk, with high-humidity states such as Florida and Louisiana at the top of that list.
Learn more, and find risk scores for your own property, at ClimateCheck.com.