A Conversation With CoreLogic Chief Scientist Howard Botts
Natural catastrophes have long been of concern to the housing and property markets. However, as these events increase in severity and frequency, climate change data science is projecting that not all areas of the U.S. will be equally exposed to these risks in the future.
Despite the popularity of some migration destinations with Americans, data analysis indicates that, depending on how dramatically current climate patterns change, many of these locations may not be ideal choices for property investment in the future.
In this episode, host Maiclaire Bolton Smith sits down with CoreLogic Chief Scientist Howard Botts to discuss the riskiest places to live in the U.S. for natural disasters.
In This Episode
3:08 – The climate has always been changing, so what is going on now that makes it so imperative to analyze and forecast natural hazard risk?
6:16 – The IPCC’s new report. What is it and how does it change the game for predicting the future?
7:34 – So where are the riskiest places to live in the U.S. as climate change influences natural disasters?
10:28 – Our Facts Guru Erika Stanley goes over the numbers in the housing market.
11:49 – Is California really going to break off and float away?
Maiclaire Bolton Smith:
So, coastal cities in particular, not ideal, not the best places to live from natural hazards, but the areas, as you mentioned, people flock to because they’re nice. We both live in California because it’s beautiful here.
Welcome back to Core Conversations: A CoreLogic Podcast, where we tour the property market to investigate how economics, climate change, governmental policies and technology affect everyday life. I am your host, Maiclaire Bolton Smith, and I’m just as curious as you are about everything that happens in our industry.
In the world of information, it’s the bad news that often makes the headlines. However, sometimes it’s worth looking at what went right rather than what went wrong to learn about the world. Climate change and severe weather events such as hurricanes, floods, wildfire, winter storms, thunderstorms and hailstorms are frequently top news due to their dramatic damaging effects on communities. While headlines frequently focus on these disasters, the areas sheltered from these hazards are often lost in the spotlight.
Today we’re welcoming back CoreLogic Chief Scientist Howard Botts to talk about the safest and least safest places to live in the U.S. for climate change. So Howard, it’s so great to have you back on Core Conversations.
Well, thank you, Maiclaire. I’m always happy to share my thoughts with you, and it’s always a pleasure to be on this podcast.
Well, you’re one of my most favorite people to chat with, so it’s always great to have you back. It’s been a while since you’ve been here. Season 1 we talked about climate change, and then at the end of Season 1, at the end of 2021, you were here for our recap. Can you just remind our listeners a little bit about your background and your role here at CoreLogic?
Sure, I’d be happy to, Maiclaire. At CoreLogic I play the role of Chief Scientist, also leader of the science and analytics team, which is composed of individuals from 50-plus academic disciplines, half of which have PhDs and Master’s degrees. We focus on three major areas, AI/ML models, hazard analytic models and climate change, and location intelligence or geospatial models. So, we’re part of the innovation core of CoreLogic, driving a lot of our thought leadership and pushing into new spaces like climate change.
Speaking of climate change thought leadership, if you’re interested in keeping up with what science is saying about the future of real estate, follow us on social media using the handle @CoreLogic on Facebook and LinkedIn or @CoreLogicInc on Twitter and Instagram. Our team curates the latest insight and analysis for you so that you’ll never miss a beat. But now let’s get back to Maiclaire and Howard.
I think our science and analytics is our core, so we are really glad to have you here to talk about a few things. So when we first talked to you, I think it was Episode 23, we talked about how climate change was impacting and affecting the industry. And since then, it’s been all we’ve talked about pretty much here on Core Conversations. Everything has really revolved around climate change.
Before we jump in, I think it’s important to set the stage and acknowledge that climate change has influenced natural hazard risk. I think everyone knows that. So, while historical data can give us a good idea about weather patterns, it can be difficult to understand how weather-related risk will evolve, especially when the climate is changing. Your team, your organization, does a lot of the research and development on this. So, can you just tell us a little bit about future scenario forecasting? What are we looking at, what will natural hazard risk look like in the future?
Yeah, great question, Maiclaire. I think the most commonly asked question I get from people is, “Hasn’t climate always been changing? What’s different? Why now?” And certainly, climate has always been changing. Twelve thousand years ago, when ice covered most of the Northern Hemisphere and other places, sea level was 400 feet lower. And so we’ve continued to see periodic droughts and flood events, other kinds of things.
But what’s different today and really in post-industrial times is the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere. And I was recently at (NASA) Jet Propulsion Lab where they have satellites that monitor carbon in the atmosphere, and when they show ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years with what we’re reading today in terms of carbon, it looks like a hockey stick, almost straight up. And so what that’s really done and what’s different and why we’re concerned with that is that’s raising average global temperatures. By the end of this century, we’ll be four to eight degrees warmer. And that has significant impacts on all the different natural hazards, whether it’s flooding or hurricanes or drought or wildfire.
We’ve spent a lot of time then looking at these and how does the future look different than the past. And by doing that, we basically are looking at how hazards are changing. We’re looking at structural vulnerability, because we’re interested in loss, and then we have loss metrics, replacement cost values. And then ultimately that gets us a number that we can then tune for different levels of carbon in the atmosphere. And typically, most of us looking at this are using the Intergovernment Panel of Climate Change scenarios, and we at CoreLogic are doing the same thing. So we can talk about best-case, average-case, worst-case scenarios for individual hazards or collectively, what’s the totality of impact at each decade out to the end of this century.
In case you don’t read every report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC, there is one that’s worth knowing about and it’s linked in the show notes.
In March 2023, the IPCC released the AR6 Synthesis Report, where it indicated that global cities and infrastructure are one of the four major categories that the changing climate will adversely impact. Researchers even analyzed to what degree the changing climate will have consequences. They did this by increasing the horizontal resolution of the study, by that we mean zooming in, by an average of about 30%.
To better picture what that means, imagine the difference in size between Texas and Massachusetts. 2014’s AR5 report would analyze a piece of land the size of Texas, while the AR6 report would shrink the piece of land studied to the size of Massachusetts, which is about 33 times smaller than Texas. Basically, the new report gives a high-definition view of how the future will look in different areas as the climate continues to change.
Okay, I want to put this to the test and see some of the stuff that we’ve done. And we talk about safe, unsafe places to live in many different contexts. In this particular way, I want to look at areas exposed to, or prone to, natural hazard risk.
Yeah, I’m sure everybody is kind of thinking right now, “Well, I bet this is the worst place,” or the best place or the safest or the least safest place to live. But what are we seeing in the data? Where are the safest and least safest places to live across the U.S., defined by their exposure to natural hazard risk?
Well, let’s start out with the bad list.
Oh, good. The good, the bad and the ugly.
If we think about where people are living now, over 50% of all Americans live in a coastal county. And when we look at what are the most vulnerable areas to climate change it’s absolutely those coastal regions, particularly the Gulf and Atlantic Coast. Although people continue to flock to Florida, you can take any one of the major coastal cities and have significant risk over time, particularly given that they’re low-lying, so sea level rise will have an impact. Hurricane intensity, as we saw from Ian last year when it hit the Fort Myers area, a substantial impact.
So Miami-Dade, all the way up to Fort Lauderdale and all the other major coastal areas in Florida are certainly at high risk. We move up the Atlantic Coast and you have places like Charleston, South Carolina, while historically beautiful, sits right at sea level — substantial risk of flooding and sea level rise. And go a little further north up to Norfolk, Virginia. That area has a substantial portion of the community already in floodplains, and we see a continued future risk there. And then as we saw from Hurricane Sandy, Long Island, other places in the New York City area, but let me not leave out the West.
Yeah, that’s true.
Ninety percent of all people in Las Vegas depend on the Colorado River for their water.
That and Phoenix and many of the other Western major cities certainly are going to struggle with both heat and drought in the future.
So kind of at opposite end, from the flood to the drought.
Exactly. And then of course we have California all the way up on the West Coast with wildfire risk.
Yeah. While there’s tremendous variability in any area, certainly I think we’re going to see Gulf and Atlantic coastal cities particularly stressed in the future.
Speaking of where people live in the U.S., it’s that time again. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, we’re going to do the numbers in the housing market. Here’s what you need to know.
Despite the pressures on the housing market, home prices in the U.S. increased 3.1% from March 2022 to March 2023. However, that number is the lowest rate of appreciation since spring of 2012. In 10 states, home prices declined rather than grew. Most of these states were in the West, with the exception of New York State. On the other side of things, Miami and Houston both saw significant home price gains, increasing by 14.8% and 5.1%, respectively.
These current market conditions are accompanied by elevated mortgage rates. This has led CoreLogic economists to project U.S. annual home price growth will continue to decline over the spring and early summer before picking back up later in 2023.
Find out more details about these trends in the U.S. Home Price Insights Report on corelogic.com, and that’s the sip. See you next time.
So, coastal cities in particular, not ideal, not the best places to live from natural hazards, but the areas, as you mentioned, people flock to because they’re nice. We both live in California because it’s beautiful here, but they are exposed to wildfire here in California, and it is those coastal regions that do seem to be the most risky.
On the opposite side of the coin, does it mean that the center of the country is then the safest place to live? I think of tornadoes and things that happen in the center of the country. So where’s the best place to live?
While today we focused on the riskiest places to live in the US due to climate change, in part two of this conversation Maiclaire and Howard will talk about the safest places to live. We’ll pick back up next week, see you there.
And thank you for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed our latest episode. Please remember to leave us a review and let us know your thoughts and subscribe wherever you get your podcast to be notified when new episodes are released.
And thanks to the team for helping bring this podcast to life. Producer Jessi Devenyns, editor and sound engineer Romie Aromin, our facts guru Erika Stanley, and social media duo, Sarah Buck and Makaila Brooks. Tune in next time for another Core Conversation.