Natural disasters can occur anywhere throughout the United States. However, there are some areas that stand out as much safer — or much riskier — than others. FEMA created a National Risk Index (NRI) which shows the relative riskiness of an area to natural disasters based on:
The expected annual loss in property damages
The social vulnerability of an area
A community’s resilience or preparedness for natural disasters
Check out some of the safest and riskiest metropolitan areas for natural disasters, according to the data provided by the NRI.
10 Safest Cities
1. Syracuse, NY
Located in upstate New York, Syracuse has very low ratings for earthquakes, flooding, and tornadoes. While the area does sometimes get heavy storms and lots of snow, it’s often at the top of the list for urban areas safest from natural disasters.
2. Leesburg, VA
Just an hour’s drive from Washington D.C., Leesburg consistently ranks among the safest areas in the country. There is minimal threat from severe thunderstorms and the occasional snowstorm, but you won’t find many natural disasters here.
3. Cleveland, OH
Situated on the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland residents have very few natural disasters to worry about. You’ll get some lake wind, along with occasional snowstorms in the winter and thunderstorms in the spring. But those are typically mild.
4. Corvallis, OR
The first West Coast city on our list, Corvallis, Oregon (nestled between Salem and Eugene) is well-protected against various natural disasters. Home to Oregon State University, Corvallis enjoys moderate temperatures year-round and comparatively few storms. While still ranking highly on the list of the safest cities from natural disasters, there has been an increase in wildfire risk, as well as some risk of landslides on some hillsides.
5. Grand Junction, CO
Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in western Colorado, Grand Junction is known as a relaxing getaway destination. Heavy snowfall is the primary natural disaster risk. There is also a minimal threat from avalanches, but those occur exceedingly rarely.
6. Akron, OH
The second city on our list from Ohio, Akron is situated just south of Cleveland and shares a similar climate and natural disaster profile. While there have been a few low-level tornados in Akron’s Summit County over the decades, they are few and far between, with no injuries from these events on record.
7. Dayton, OH
One more entry on our list from Ohio, Dayton is another city with no serious natural disaster risks. The greatest natural disaster threats in Dayton come from the hail and strong winds associated with occasional thunderstorms.
8. Allentown, PA
Allentown is located in southwestern Pennsylvania and has a history of lower damage from deadly storms than other parts of the state. The city is more at risk for severe winter weather, although the NRI ranks community resilience as very high in the area.
9. Spokane, WA
Spokane is nestled between the Cascade and the Rocky Mountains, giving it ample protection from severe weather events that other parts of the Pacific Northwest endure. Its summers are warm and mild, and its winters are not very severe due to the shielding from surrounding mountains. This all makes Spokane a lovely place to live.
10. Bozeman, MT
Much like Spokane, Bozeman is protected from major weather events by its shielded position in the Rocky Mountains. Community resilience is ranked very high within the area as well. This means the population is better prepared for natural disasters to strike.
10 Riskiest Cities
1. Los Angeles, CA
With a high population density and high frequency of earthquakes, wildfires, and flooding, LA ranks as the riskiest place for national disasters on the NRI. LA’s low community resilience and more vulnerable social populations make natural disasters a greater blow to the area. And the high value of property means higher losses when a disaster strikes.
2. Houston, TX
Houston’s population ranks low on the NRI in terms of preparedness for natural disasters, and the 2021 Texas winter storm is a somber real-life example of that. Twenty-five people died in Houston alone due to the unusually frigid temperatures, while 91% of the city’s population lost power and 65% lost access to water.
3. San Bernardino/Riverside, CA
The San Bernardino and Riverside communities are located directly on top of the San Andreas fault, making these areas extremely susceptible to major earthquakes. On top of that, the hot and dry Santa Ana winds that blow through the area increase its risk of wildfire.
4. Oakland, CA
Oakland is another earthquake-prone area. Who could forget the 1989 Loma Prieta quake? And, as we have seen across much of CA, wildfire threats have increased in recent years. Similarly to LA and Houston, we find low community resilience in the Oakland area, making it more difficult for residents to bounce back after a natural disaster.
5. Santa Clara/San Jose, CA
Just South of Oakland, you’ll find the Santa Clara/San Jose metro area, which also suffers from high earthquake and wildfire risk. The explosion in property values from the Silicon Valley tech boom made this region susceptible to greater financial losses following any disaster that damages properties. Even as property values have started to come down a bit throughout Santa Clara County, the median sales price is still a high $1.5 million.
6. Miami, FL
While known for its beautiful beaches and swanky downtown scene, Miami is also in prime hurricane territory. Currently, over 300,000 properties in Miami-Dade County are considered at risk for flooding, with hundreds of millions of dollars in flood damage projected for this year alone.
7. Fort Lauderdale, FL
Located just north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale experiences the same risk of damage from hurricane winds and flooding. Interestingly, Fort Lauderdale did not make the top 10 riskiest cities list last year. But, as property values have climbed, the higher risk of financial losses pushed this city onto the list. Pre-pandemic, the median sales price was $309,500. But, but April 2023, that median had increased by 78% to $550,000.
8. Palm Beach, FL
A little further north of Fort Lauderdale, you’ll find Palm Beach. Just like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach is susceptible to heavy hurricane damage. And, just like these neighboring cities, Palm Beach has seen substantial property value increases since the pandemic, making the financial impact of natural disasters more severe today than it would have been just a few years ago.
9. San Diego, CA
San Diego is known as one of the few places on earth where you get sunny, 72-degree days year-round. But, despite the temperate climate, San Diego is seeing the same increase in wildfire risk that much of California is experiencing. Parts of San Diego are also at risk of mudslides. This threat is heightened when wildfire burn areas get heavy rains. With the hillside vegetation burned off, the rain immediately turns the loose soil unstable.
10. Chicago, IL
Wind damage is always a risk in the Windy City as cold fronts blow in off Lake Michigan. But the Chicago suburbs are also at risk from severe thunderstorms and even tornados. The high social vulnerability, low community resilience, and high property values make the impact of natural disasters devastating.
How Real Estate Agents Can Navigate the Safest and Riskiest Places for Natural Disasters
As a licensed real estate agent, your business is impacted by the natural disaster risk in your local market. So you should consider these natural threats carefully and make a plan to capitalize on safe markets and mitigate risky markets.
If you’re fortunate enough to live and work in a safe city, promote the safety of your market to out-of-area buyers. For example, Cleveland area real estate agents could market to Chicago area residents who may be interested in relocating to another lake-side metro with a lower risk of severe storms and less risk of property losses.
If you’re working in a market with a high natural disaster risk, be ready with information for your prospective buyers. Make sure you understand the protections offered by homeowner’s insurance policies so you can share this with your clients. And take the time to learn about supplementary insurance policies like earthquake insurance and flood insurance. You should also learn which specific areas in your market are at the greatest risk. Flooding, for example, might be localized to a river basin, so you can direct your concerned buyers to safer areas.
Alternatively, agents working in high-risk markets could lean into residents’ concerns by helping sellers relocate. You could, for example, market yourself as a distressed property specialist, helping property owners dispose of assets that have been damaged. Or create a referral network in safer cities so that you can better facilitate relocations for your sellers who want to move out of your high-risk market and into a low-risk market.
By putting your clients’ needs first, you can build your reputation as a trusted real estate professional in any market!