States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card

Climate Central

Overview: Climate Central is an independent organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting climate change in the United States.

How to Use This Resource: This interactive report identifies the major climate threats facing the U.S – flooding, extreme heat, drought, and wildfire – and for each state provides a risk assessment score based on the extremity of weather and adaptive actions in place.

Deep South, Deep Risk: Region faces climate adaptation challenges

In the news: President Barack Obama is to visit flood-ravaged Louisiana today in the wake of inundating high water that killed 13 people and left more than 100,000 seeking federal assistance. The Great Flood of 2016 is being called the worst U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, with 4,000 people in shelters days after rains subsided and 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

Back story: Flooding from extreme rains is just one of many serious climate risks facing the Southeast. Predictions call for coastal flooding and erosion related to sea-level rise and hurricanes, not to mention worsening heat waves and drought. One major analysis says the Southeast and Texas are two of the hottest and most weather vulnerable areas in the country, and warns of significant climate change impacts on heat-related mortality, agriculture, energy demand and economic productivity.

Risks vary throughout the region. For instance, according to Climate Central, Florida has the largest population in the country vulnerable to inland flooding, with 1.5 million residents living in the inland FEMA floodplain. Georgia is third most at risk, after California, with 570,000 people. And both Florida and Louisiana face far greater coastal flooding threats than other coastal states.

But it's not just about floods – heat waves are a particular problem in the Southeast and Gulf Coast, while wildfires threaten Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, as well as Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Adaptation angle: Stories for the region go beyond immediate or even long-term climate risk. They should also include reporting on preparations for climate disruption. Those preparations can be near-term, such as improved flood barriers or drainage to prevent injury and damage from floods, for emergency evacuation and temporary mass housing, or for cleanup and getting an area back on its feet after an extreme event.

But it should also mean reporting on what a community is planning in the way of more resilient infrastructure to avoid disruptions in the first place -- disruptions to transportation, energy, property, water, food and business supply chains.

Questions to ask

  • What are the specific risks to your community with changing climate, and to what extent is local or state government recognizing and responding to them near-term and long term?
  • What kinds of emergency response plans are in place for extreme weather in your area, like hurricanes, heavy rains or heat waves? Are there evacuation routes and do residents know about them?
  • How could drought affect water supplies in your area, whether for drinking, agriculture, business or recreation? What plans are in place to respond?
  • How could heat waves affect public health, businesses or infrastructure in your area? Does your community suffer from urban heat island affect? What are the plans to respond?
  • How could flooding affect your area, in terms of risk to life, loss of housing, or disruption of transportation or energy supplies? How are mold and leftover debris handled? How might flooding from rains and rising seas interact? What can be done to protect the community?
  • What are the possible disruptions to local infrastructure from the various risks your area is facing? How are authorities responding?
  • What are home values in threatened communities? For instance, flood-affected areas in Louisiana this past week included 110,000 homes worth a combined $20.7 billion and more than 7,000 businesses.
  • We offer more questions to ask on these risks and possible responses in our library of climate adaptation news backgrounders. For more, see backgrounders on drought, inland flooding, wildfires, heat waves, health and heat, adaptation in cities and public funding of adaptation.

Reporting resources

Dig deeper on adaptation in the South using the dozens of related resources in the database of the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation.

  • For a regional examination of climate risk, see the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment. It has a detailed section on the Southeast, focusing on the risks of sea-level rise, extreme heat and decreased water availability, as well as an interactive adaptation response map with a handful of initiatives in the South and around the country.
  • Another regional analysis comes from the Risky Business Project, which has an extensive special report on the Southeast United States that details a wide range of economic risks from climate change, as well as risks to manufacturing. The report also includes a state-by-state analysis of risk for 11 Southeastern states and Texas.
  • For regional agricultural climate challenges, explore the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regional climate hubs for a discussion of the Southeast region’s climate vulnerability and responses.
  • More on state-by-state preparedness can be gleaned through Climate Central’s “States at Risk Report Card,” which provides an interactive map interface for users to examine each Southern state’s adaptation planning for risks like extreme heat, drought, wildfires and flooding.
  • Explore cities in the Southeast that are focused on resilience using the 100 Resilient Cities site. The Rockefeller Foundation initiative includes large urban centers such as Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans, as well as smaller cities like El Paso, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; and Norfolk, Virginia.
  • National parks in the Southeast are at risk as well. Reporters can navigate an interactive map with parks dotted along the region for details of specific level of risk. Another report looks at the challenges faced by U.S. national landmarks in the Southeast and beyond.
  • Research state- and regional-level initiatives and data, such as North Carolina’s sea-level rise challenge, the Southeast Florida’s regional climate change compact, the Texas Coastal Communities Planning Atlas, New Orleans Index at Ten resiliency analysis, or the American Sustainable Business Council’s Businesses Acting on Rising Seas project in South Carolina.

Plus, see our recent news backgrounder on inland flooding and adaptation.

Know of other Southeastern-related adaptation resources we should have in our database?

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on August 23, 2016


Dry spell: Covering worsening droughts

In the news: A months-long drought has hit the northeastern United States, and while it’s not as dire as the West Coast’s five-year dry spell, it has stressed farms, prompted water restrictions and threatened more wildfires. It stretches from Maine to Pennsylvania and has hit Massachusetts particularly hard, as well as New Hampshire, Maine and New York.

Back story: U.S. drought has worsened in recent decades, and is affecting much of the country. As of early August drought is affecting 17.7 percent of the United States., and more than 100 million people. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, large portions of the Southwest have experienced the most persistent droughts on record in the last decade. Globally, since the 1950s, regions like southern Europe and West Africa have also experienced longer and more intense droughts.

Adaptation angle: Projections see worsening drought ahead, requiring government, businesses and individuals to adjust water consumption, and to prepare for impacts of drought on food and water supplies, human health, energy production, transportation, migration and a slew of other policy areas.

The United Nations expects more drought in the coming decades not just in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, but also in central Europe, central North America, northeast Brazil, southern Africa, Mexico and Central America. In the United States, Climate Central projects 36 states will see an increase in drought threat by 2050, with many states facing severe, widespread drought causing major economic and environmental impacts. By 2050, it says nine states — Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington — are projected to face a greater summer drought threat than the most at-risk state, Texas, does today.

Questions to ask

  • Is your community in a state or region that has experienced or is expected to see worsening drought? If so, what, if any, response plans are in place from policymakers?
  • What state and local agencies have authority over water usage?
  • Are water-use restrictions currently in place? Are they mandatory or voluntary? If mandatory, are they being enforced?
  • What kind of water efficiencies might be possible in your area, such as shorter pipe networks?
  • What kind of land-use policies, such as more compact communities, might improve drought resilience in your community?
  • What drought-resistant lawns or landscaping techniques can residents use?
  • What might be the infrastructure impact of drought in your area? Are soils shrinking, damaging pavements? Are buildings in your area experiencing drought-related foundation cracking? Is there damage to underground pipelines?
  • What is your area’s primary water supply and what is the impact of drought? Are reservoir levels dropping or streams drying up? Is drinking water quality being affected?
  • Could low river flows cause salt-water intrusion in your area? Or foster subsidence in soils as groundwater supplies are used up?
  • What kind of public health considerations does drought bring to your community, whether with food preparation, sanitation, recreation or water quality?
  • Is the balance of the water supply going to agriculture or populated areas? Should water resources be diverted from one to the other?
  • For agricultural areas, what are the impacts of drought, ranging from slower plant growth to crop losses?
  • Are agricultural firms or scientific organizations in your area researching drought-resistant crops?
  • Is drying vegetation elevating the risk of wildfire in your area? Is drought weakening forests and making them vulnerable to infestations?
  • What are the ecosystem impacts of drought in your area? Disease among wildlife? Loss of wetlands? Soil erosion or desertification?

Reporting resources

  • Review global prospects for drought and possible adaptations from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, or search among thousands of drought-related results from the U.N. Climate Change Newsroom.
  • Get U.S. drought data from the EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States, which has a section on drought, including a close-up look at temperature and drought in the Southwest. Also see the EPA’s site on drought response for the nation’s water utilities.
  • Check the U.S. government’s Drought Portal weekly for a monitor showing where drought is hitting, plus get a seasonal outlook, drought impacts reporting, and a ZIP code interactive to see how drought is affecting your neighborhood. The site also has a planning and preparedness section with extensive links to drought response resources such as a “Planning and Drought” report from the American Planning Association.
  • Scan drought maps and outlooks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as this NOAA-funded Drought Risk Atlas. NOAA also has a technical service that helps planners in the Eastern United States improve drought preparedness.
  • Detail U.S. drought risks using the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which includes discussion of drought in its section on extreme weather.
  • Read up on the economic and policy risks of U.S. drought via the Risky Business Project, which also has special reports that touch on drought in California, Texas and the Southeast United States, and the Midwest.
  • Explore drought policy plans via Georgetown Climate Center’s adaptation clearinghouse. Find dozens of results that can be filtered by relevance, date and rating by searching the database for “drought.” The Center has also prepared two drought case studies for Austin, Texas, and Beijing.
  • Review state-by-state preparedness plans for “drought” through the States at Risk Report Card. Montana, for example, earned an F because it faces one of the highest threats in the country and has one of the worst preparedness scores, whereas Oregon (A-) is one of the leaders in preparing for its drought risks.
  • Explore cities around the world focused on drought. There are a dozen-and-a-half in the 100 Resilient Cities program (use the Selected Cities database and search under “challenges” for drought).

Dig deeper on the drought story using the dozens of related resources in the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation database.

Know of other drought-related resources we should have in our database?

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on August 12, 2016


Hot zone: Covering the rise in heat waves

In the news: It was the hottest June on record for the lower 48 U.S. states -- 3.3 degrees above normal and a hair above a 1933 Dust Bowl-era record, reported National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week. In the wake of Southwestern heat waves in June, unusually hot weather hit the East Coast last week, and a massive heat wave is expected next week.

Back story: Climate change means the U.S. will face average annual temperature increases of 3°F to 10°F by the end of the century, according to the latest National Climate Assessment. But climate change is not just about the worrisome rise in average temperatures -- it’s also about extremes. Climate models predict that U.S. summertime temperatures that ranked among the hottest 5 percent between 1950 and 1979 will occur at least 70 percent of the time between 2035 and 2064. Of course, heat waves are not just a U.S. problem. Europe’s 2003 heat wave caused an estimated 30,000 to 70,000 premature deaths, and last week scientists reported climate change was behind that deadly weather.

Adaptation angles 

  • Potentially dangerous health impacts from extreme heat include increased levels of illness and death, especially for at-risk groups like the elderly, the chronically ill, young children and the poor. These impacts could be lessened by measures such as providing greater access to cooling centers.
  • Urban heat, worsened by built surfaces and scarce vegetation, can be reduced by cool roof programs or more greenery.
  • In rural areas, increases in average temperatures and heat waves will mean enhancing water management to cope with drier soils and researching drought-resistant plant varieties to reverse lower yields.
  • And impacts of extreme heat on natural ecosystems require a better understanding of challenges such as increased wildfire risk.

Questions to ask

  • Are more heat waves coming to your community due to global warming? What’s been the average? What was experienced during any historical heat waves?
  • What are the particular vulnerable populations in your community? Do you have more seniors, more outdoor workers, more people with cardiovascular disease?
  • What community programs are in place to help those who can’t afford to buy or run air-conditioning units? Does your community have cooling centers and how do residents find out about them? Are there assistance programs to help residents purchase air conditioners?
  • What measures are in place to reduce urban heat, such as plantings or structures to increase shade; or white roofs, rooftop gardens or green alleyways to reduce the use of asphalt and other surfaces that hold heat?
  • What kind of agricultural practices, such as water management or drought-resistant crops, are growers using to address heat waves? Explore ongoing research into those practices.
  • What do heat waves and drought mean for forested areas in your region? Could they mean greater likelihood of insect infestations that weaken trees and raise risk of more wildfires?

Reporting resources

Dig deeper on the heat wave story using annotated heat wave-related resources in the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation database.

Know of other heat wave-related resources we should have in our database?

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on July 15, 2016


Wildfires in the West: Covering Fire’s Climate and Adaptation Angles

IN THE NEWS (UPDATED JUNE 30): Wildfires have been scorching California, Arizona and New Mexico for two weeks, fueled by sweltering summer heat. As of Wednesday night, at least four were dead late Sunday night Eastern Time, at least two were dead  and 200 structures burned, with one blaze, the 46,00043,000-acre Erskin Fire north of Los Angeles, still only 60%40% contained.

BACK STORY: Intense and early summer fire seasons may now be the “new normal,” as persistent hot, dry conditions compound years of drought to worsen seasonal wildfires. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dead trees in the region are fueling the tinderbox conditions. Another round of triple-digit temperates expected this week could aggravate the fires.

ADAPTATION ANGLE: Climate change is producing conditions “ripe for wildfires” -- rising temperatures reduce snowpack or melt it earlier, and cause more extremely hot days, all of which dries out grasslands and forest, and increases the likelihood of dramatic increases in large wildfires across the West. According to Climate Central, which has put together a new wildfire tracker, the previous 2015 wildfire season was already the worst on record in the United States, with more than 10 million acres burned. Calls for more Forest Service funding have come to help combat the problem through controlled burns, and by treating fires as natural disasters through federal emergency money, instead of its own programs to prevent fires.


  • What should local residents do to prepare for fire, including establishing protected space around their homes or preparing for evacuation?
  • What are the human health impacts of wildfires? For instance, studies have shown worsening air quality from western fires. Are local or even distant fires harming health in your community? Examples from Las Vegas and Aspen, Colo.
  • How have building homes and developing on the wildland-urban interface exacerbated widlfires?
  • What effect will future heat waves and drought have on wildfires?
  • How are controlled burns used to clear dead trees and otherwise prevent larger, out-of-control fires? Examples are not just from the Southwest, but also from Florida (more) and the Pacific Northwest.
  • What’s the status of funding Forest Service to fight the forest die-off that is helping fuel wildfires?
  • How does vegetation and wildlife change after wildfires?
  • What the source of beetle and caterpillar infestations that have killed off millions of trees, not just in the Southwest, but in Southern New England as well.

REPORTING RESOURCES: Dig deeper on the wildfire story using more than a dozen fire-related resources in the database of the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation.

  • For California-specific information, check Cal-Adapt for wildfire risk maps and case studies, and see the state’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment for infographics on the history of wildfires and 2085 wildfire projections.
  • U.S.-wide information and data on wildfires can be found at U.S. Forest Service Climate Resource Center, where there are links to database tools and to research about likely changes and options for management; at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s site on climate change indicators, under “ecosystems;” and at the U.S. National Park Service’s climate and wildland fire resources pages
  • Check state-by-state wildfire preparedness plans through the “States at Risk Report Card.”
  • Check Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program to see if your city is one of the half dozen that face wildfires. Use the “selected cities” database and search for wildfires under “challenge.”
  • Read about the connection between climate change, development and wildfire in the West in the Union of Concerned Scientists 2014 “Playing with Fire” report.
  • Plus, watch a brief video explainer on climate change and wildfires.

Know of other wildfire-related resources we should have in our database? Share your resources here. And share your own wildfire stories, story angles and questions to ask.

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on June 27, 2016


Flooding in Texas – Is Your State Next? How to Cover Inland Flood Risk

IN THE NEWS: The torrential downpours that have swollen rivers in Texas in recent days, taking at least six lives, and heavy rains that inundated Houston earlier in April, costing eight lives and forcing the evacuation of thousands, are harbingers of rising inland flood risk, not just in Texas and the Southwest, but through the country.

BACKSTORY: Experts in a federal study warn extreme rain is increasing nationally, especially in the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains, and that flooding may intensify in many regions of the country. Flash floods and urban flooding linked to heavy rain are also expected to increase.

ADAPTATION ANGLE: But many states aren’t prepared for the rising risk. According to an analysis of more than 30 states, half have taken no action to plan for future changes in inland flooding risks or implemented strategies to address them. Among those receiving especially poor grades are Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.


  • What’s the risk in your region, and how well are authorities prepared?
  • What early warning systems are in place, including for inundated roads where most of the fatalities in Texas have taken place?
  • How well is your area prepared for the power outages, transportation problems and other impacts that can come with flooding?
  • What are the risks to other infrastructure, such as water treatment facilities?
  • What are the risks of local flood waters carrying toxins or other health hazards?
  • What procedures are in place for local dams to help with flood control?
  • How well are emergency responders prepared for floods and flood rescues?
  • What can residents do to better prepare and be safe during floods?
  • Are rising flood insurance costs an issue locally?

REPORTING RESOURCES: Dig deeper on the flood risk and response story using the more than three dozen flood-related resources in the database of the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation:

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on June 6, 2016