Oregon is on fire, far more so than usual during fire season, and some Oregonians have had enough. They are starting to wonder if it’s time to pack up and move on.
But to where?
There’s the rub. We can’t head south. Like Oregon, California faces annual droughts, wildfires and the potential Big One. The Golden State’s former governor, Jerry Brown, told his fellow Californians this week to stop thinking about moving away and get used to it.
“Tell me: Where are you going to go?” Brown said. “You might say, ‘We are getting out of here — we are going someplace else.’ No. There are going to be problems everywhere in the United States. This is the new normal.”
Brown is talking about the consequences of a warming planet, but climate change isn’t the only reason there’s nowhere for Californians — or Oregonians — to go to avoid catastrophe. The fact is, the new normal was also the old normal. Natural disasters always have been a common occurrence — and always will be. There isn’t any place in this large country to hide from them.
Florida, for example, is slowly being overwhelmed by the ocean. “King tides” regularly surge into Miami, submerging roads and flooding houses, and saltwater is seeping into fresh-water aquifers there, putting the drinking supply at risk. Even a former mayor of a small city near Miami has called for the state to launch a “managed retreat” from South Florida.
Hurricanes bear down on the Sunshine State and nearby states every year. Hurricane Sally right now is threatening Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
A recent study by First Street Foundation shows most of the southeastern seaboard facing “substantial risk” for flooding in the years ahead. Even New York City up on the north end of the East Coast is in danger of flooding, with 14% of its structures “currently at risk.”
The Great Plains see tornados on a regular basis. A wide swath stretching across parts of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Colorado and the Dakotas is widely known as Tornado Alley. Oklahoma experienced 149 tornados in 2019, the most on record there for a single year. Since 1950, more tornados have hit Texas than any other state.
And tornados don’t stick to Tornado Alley. Alabama, for example, has seen more than 60 twisters this year. Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida also see plenty of the destructive columns of air.
The country’s deadliest tornado crashed through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in 1925. The “Tri-State Tornado” killed 695 people and injured some 2,000 more.
We all know California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska are at a high risk for a big earthquake. Yet one of the biggest quakes in U.S. history hit Missouri. Yes, Missouri. In 1811-12, three large earthquakes struck near the small town of New Madrid. “The area of strong shaking associated with these shocks is two to three times as large as that of the 1964 Alaska earthquake and 10 times as large as that of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake,” states the United States Geological Survey.
Think the West Coast’s propensity for natural disasters is bad? Texas' is worse. The Lone Star State “has [had] the highest frequency of extreme weather events” over the past 40 years, concluded a 2018 study. That includes floods, hurricanes, tornados, hailstorms and ice storms. We’re talking at least $250 billion in damage over that period.
The upshot: Things are indeed bad in Oregon right now, with fire and smoke destroying homes and lives. But nature can turn against humans anywhere, at almost any time, and it’s now happening more often. 2018 saw 14 “billion-dollar weather and climate disasters” in the U.S., according to FEMA. The average per year over the previous four decades was 6.2.
So where are you going to go? Maybe down into a bunker.
Just make sure you check for radon.