Right off the bat, let’s say this: sorry to break it to you, but the truth is that we are not safe from a natural disaster anywhere we go in this blessed land. From South to North, East, and West, nature has its ways to express itself and sometimes we get caught up in the middle of it. And in many ways, that’s what made us the greatest civilization of the twentieth century: we’ve had our share of natural disasters, we’ve learned from them and we have never let them hold us back.
With that in mind, knowing that there’s no running from it, only a “pick your poison” kind of solution, our team at RealEstateAgent.com decided to make a compilation of the worst cities for natural disasters in America. Here we go:
Cities with the most Earthquakes
It won’t be a surprise if we say that Alaska and California are the states with the most earthquake action, right? But to properly define the worst cities in America when it comes to Earthquakes, sometimes it’s not a matter of where, but when. For instance, did you know that Memphis, Tennessee is at a considerable risk of a big one? Although they are not the first place you think of when talking about Earthquakes, there’s a 25-40% possibility of a magnitude 6.0 or higher in the next 50 years! So, what does it matter to say “Well, my town has not had many earthquakes in the last 50 years”, if a big one is about to come?
Hawaii, due to its busy volcano activity (more on that later) a city like Honolulu, right there on the coast (hello Tsunamis!) of an island is one difficult thing, as, in a tragedy, you have no option but to fly away. Puerto Rico, aside from being constantly featured in the hurricane route, is also very prone to earthquakes. And, yeah, there’s a reason why everyone thinks of San Francisco when thinking about earthquakes. San Francisco is also expecting that big one due to its premier positioning near the San Andreas fault and the Hayward Faults, which makes it one of the worst cities in America if Earthquake is a big preoccupation for you. The whole coastal area of California, from the south to the bay area, is at risk, actually. Strangely enough, Sacramento is like a little inland island, with a much less probability of being damaged by an earthquake. We wonder if that’s the real reason behind it being the state’s capital…
As far as natural disasters go, earthquakes are one of the worst when it comes to damages to real estate. Small intensity ones can slowly damage the house structure, while higher intensity ones can outright destroy it with everything inside it. Plus roads and bridges. Earthquakes have the potential to set back communities decades back, and/or redevelop areas, after all, people are forced to find new homes, sometimes forcing gentrification of neighborhoods and cities.
Cities with the most Hurricanes
One of the biggest problems of earthquakes is that they can’t be predicted with certainty, right? Well, with Hurricanes, you can get at least a 48-hour warning, so you have time to prepare yourself. Plus, depending on the sturdiness of the building you’re in, you’re likely to endure the winds. So, we’d say is a good natural disaster to endure, right?
But if you want to avoid them, do not move to Florida. Especially the coastal areas in the southeast, the Florida Keys and the Florida Gulf. In fact, it’s estimated that once every 10 years, at least 1 category 3 hurricane – winds between 111 and 129 mph – will strike Southeastern Florida. Poor Miami… it has a 16% chance of experiencing the effects of a hurricane in any given year. Miami Real Estate Agents know that hurricane season is one serious thing in Florida and when buying a house with you will tell you to be sure to get home insurance that covers hurricane damage. But Miami is not the only city at peril in the sunshine state - it’s just that, being the one with the most population (and real estate), it’s naturally the one that suffers most damage by an Act of God like this; and that’s why it’s the number one regarding hurricanes on our worst cities in America list. But close by towns of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples and Tampa are also to be avoided if you fear the tropical storms that turn into hurricanes.
Texas cities are also pretty vulnerable to hurricanes, if not by the primary damage of winds, the secondary damages of a flood (more on that later) and more – Hurricane Harvey is still fresh on our minds to prove this point. So are Louisiana’s and South Carolina’s. And not even New England is immune; since 1900 at least 9 hurricanes struck the coastline; four of them were Category 4 – winds between 130-156 mph – with wind gusts registered at 180mph(!) and a massive rainfall that caused severe flooding.
If you want to run as far as you can from hurricanes, you can try the Pacific Ocean. The west coast and Hawaii dealt with hurricanes only 4 times, and none of those were a direct hit.
Aside from the aftermath of a hurricane, real estate also suffers changes because of hurricanes on the other end of it: the construction of it. You’ll notice how houses in areas where hurricanes visit are built differently, with wind resistant windows and other materials that are not that common elsewhere.
Cities with the most Tornadoes
Did you know that tornadoes are more common in America than any other country? We have more than 1,200 a year! That’s 4 times higher than what Europe gets. So, if the USA is tornado country, Oklahoma City is the capital: OKC has registered more than 140 tornadoes since records began in the early 1890s!
Why Oklahoma City? There’s no explanation besides its location right in the middle of Tornado Alley (a region that goes from the North of Texas to Canada, with its core centered on Oklahoma and Kansas). Most of the Tornadoes there are formed by the clash of warm moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and dry air coming down from Canada, and Oklahoma City seems to be in a prime spot for that meeting, especially during the spring.
Florida – there we go again – is actually one of the most tornado-prone states but they are usually much blander than the strong ones seen east of the Rocky Mountains, The Great Plains, Midwest, Mississippi Valley and the whole southern United States. If you’re looking to avoid Tornadoes, head to Alaska; they were only hit by 2 tornadoes from 1950 to 2006, and they were both really mild, achieving the lowest level (F0).
However, because Tornadoes are somewhat contained to a small area, there are people that are actually fascinated by them. They like to study and observe them close by. So our list of worst cities in America for Tornados makes no sense for them. If you are one of those Tornado aficionados, here are the top 5 states with the most tornadoes; just pick a city there, keep your ears to the ground and you'll be close to the action whenever the winds start to circle around:
Tornadoes are very visually terrible when it comes to damages. They just lift everything on their way. But the truth is that its reach is not as wide as the one of an earthquake, for example, and there are very few secondary effects, although its most common one - flood - can be pretty bad itself. Like hurricanes, it affects construction in regards to the materials used to set up properties.
Cities with the most Volcanoes
This one is pretty obvious, right?
It was all over the news earlier this year when Kilauea volcano, active since 1983, erupted. One of the five volcanoes on the Big Island, the Kilauea is the most dangerous volcano in America. But, hey, did you know that Oregon is just as bad as Hawaii? They have 3 of the most dangerous volcanoes in America, and South Sister Volcano, just west of Bend, Oregon deserves special care. In the late 1990’s a 9-mile-wide area started to form, and Volcanologists suspect this is an indication of magma accumulating underground, which could eventually not only make South Sister erupt, and eradicating Bend and a lot of things nearby but actually forming a brand new volcano! As if we needed another one…
California and Washington also have their share of dangerous volcanoes with cities and interstate roads on the foothills of it. Mount St. Helens, in Washington, near Spokane, has last erupted in 1980, so Spokane is a pretty safe place to be when it comes to volcanoes, right? Wrong. Over the last 10,000 years Mount St. Helen has erupted more frequently than any of its peers from the Cascade Range. It might not be as bad as it was more than 30 years ago, when the sky in Spokane went completely dark because of the volcanic smoke, 57 people were killed and 520 million tons of volcanic ash was spewed, but still, Spokane makes the list of worst cities in America when it comes to Volcanoes.
But number-wise, Alaska is (by far) the winner. Scientists say there are about 169 active volcanoes in America, and 130 of them are located in Alaska. And they’ve been pretty active too. Since Alaska is not very populated, there’s not much talk about it, but combining Earthquakes and Volcanoes that erupt nearly every year, we’d put Anchorage in the list of worst cities for natural disasters.
This one is terrible for real estate, because once it erupts, if lava advances… it’s a goner. The house just melts down and there’s no construction work around that. No special material, no nothing. And chances are, even if you flee and the lava essentially died, you won’t be able to build the house back in the same place, because the rock formation is altered, so a new urban development of street and land and whatnots need to be cleared by officials before you do anything. It’s a total loss scenario right there.
Cities with the most Wildfires
Speaking about Alaska… at the time of writing this article, there were over 56 active wildfires throughout America; and 18 of them were in Alaska alone - isn’t that crazy? If Alaska, the ice state, can have them… that’s an indication that wildfires can happen anywhere, right? But, generally, everything west of the Rockies with its more dry weather is prone to wildfires. California, with the addition of a drought and severe heat over the last decade due to global warming, takes the lead. It’s very common to hear about Wildfires in Southern California near Los Angeles.
As far as real estate goes, this natural disaster is pretty possible to work around. If you live near areas where wildfire is likely to happen you can have oxygen tanks for emergencies so you can evacuate personal objects etc. But if that’s the case, it means the wildfire is about to hit you hard, and then…. Well, there’s nothing you can do about the house. It will probably be fully destroyed. But at least it’s not like volcanoes: once you tear everything down, you can build again as soon as you like.
Cities with the most Floods
From fire to water, we touch base with the east coast and that whole area between Virginia and Maine. That area suffers the most. Maryland is just bad: from the top 10 worst cities in America when it comes to flood, number one is Annapolis and number 2 is Baltimore. Despite being #1 when it comes to flood - with a whopping average of 39.3 floods a year between 2007 and 2013 - all Annapolis Real Estate Agents will tell you the same: just get a good flood insurance, a nice pair of boots (maybe a kayak) and deal with it - because Annapolis is worth it. A great city, the perfect “stay-cation” city, conveniently located between two big cities with great food (especially if you love crab) and much much more. Yes, Annapolis has this problem, and it might have some tornadoes from time to time, but, still, Annapolis is a great city and although floods are too often, they are somewhat manageable.
Flood is one democratic natural disaster: it can happen virtually everywhere in America; even in places in high altitude. And that’s mainly because of infrastructural problems – which is good news; we all need to do better to keep the danger away. However, it seems to be more frequent on the East Coast. In fact, only Port Isabel, in Texas and San Francisco, makes the top worst cities in America for Flooding! Sorry, San Francisco Real Estate Agents, we’re not trying to make things harder on you by time and again putting you on the list; it’s just numbers. It’s the Bay area after all. But if it serves as any consolation, the worst flood was recorded in 1862, so maybe after so many natural disasters, the city has picked up its infrastructure and, although there were many other floods, it was better prepared to it that it made them irrelevant.
Floods can damage your power grid and cause a short fuse that sets the house on fire, yes. But it will rarely destroy your real estate on the first punch like that. It’s more like a cancer that slowly eats your house, causing problems that build upon problems caused by that initial flood or the repetition of those occurrences. Remember that, like earthquakes, floods are not covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy; if you live at a place prone to flooding - and that’s pretty much everywhere in the US - you’ll need, just like the Annapolis Real Estate Agents said, a specific flood insurance policy.
Cities with the most Sinkholes
This is one natural disaster we don’t talk enough, and yet they are pretty common. Didn’t you read it the other day about The White House Sinkhole? And Washing DC is not even on the list of the worst cities for natural disasters like sinkholes. The thing is that 20% of the land in America is susceptible to sinkholes, and it’s pretty well distributed. The states with the most damage from sinkhole are Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and, of course, here we go again, Florida. In fact, many of Florida’s lakes and ponds are nothing but sinkholes that were filled with rainwater! So, it’s safe to say that sinkholes are part of the state’s heritage.
Ocala, Florida is at the top of the list of the worst cities in America when it comes to sinkholes. Located in Central Florida, just earlier this year some Ocala residents were forced to evacuate after a “plague” of sinkholes started to happen. There were 12 occurrences in the same community! One dramatic sinkhole swallowed a whole car right at a fast-food parking lot! Thankfully, they didn’t have a drive-thru, so the driver wasn’t inside the car. While Central Florida has the deadliest, South Florida attracts a lot of the smaller sinkhole action. Every year, Miami registers at least a dozen of them – sometimes they are not even reported, because it’s only a shallow and broad depression on the land, occurred as sand and sediment dissolve through dissolution holes in limestone rock.
This one can most of the times be mitigated if you pay a close attention to the surroundings of your home, so we could say that it’s the easiest of the natural disasters to real estate.
Now that we broke down in categories, let’s make our final list of worst cities for natural disasters as a whole. Drum rolls, please!
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- San Francisco, California
- Miami, Florida
- Anchorage, Alaska
Honorable mentions: Annapolis, because the flood are too constant there, Los Angeles because although it never ranks as the worst city for any of the natural disasters, is constantly at the top 5.
What do you think about our list of worst cities for natural disasters? Are you super mad your city is there (or is not there)? Tell us in the comment why our list is such a disaster!