JessLynnBabblin'

  • Jessica Nacovsky

39: Safest Cities in the Continental USA (from Natural Disasters)

Howdy! I move a lot. While fun is my priority, my husband does a ton of research to determine safety before we move to a new city. Crime stats are easy to find, but lists of cities least prone to natural disasters, are hard to come by. If you watch the news, natural disasters are a regular feature. If it's not flooding, its wild fires, tornados, or earthquakes. Heck, we've even got active volcanos. Seems nowhere's immune to natural disasters. However, there have got to be places less at risk than others.


Let's start with flooding.


FEMA floodplane map, and alternative flood plane map shone on the NYTimes
FEMA flood plane map (left) and alternative flood plane map (right) shone on the NYTimes

According the the NYTimes, Independent Researchers have mapped significantly more flood planes than FEMA. My understanding is that insurance costs increase while living on a flood plane, so maybe FEMA is doing home owners a solid. Regardless, I'm using the Independent Researcher's map for today's purpose. I took the liberty of slapping some cities on this bad boi and voila


USA cities on a flood planes map
USA cities on a flood planes map

As you can see above, there aren't a ton of cities not in major flood planes. Working generally from west to east, the following have low threats of flooding:

  • Seattle, Washington (but skipping ahead, they're too close to a volcano)

  • Portland, Oregon (but skipping ahead, they get earthquakes, and they're too close to a volcano)

  • San Diego, California (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires and earthquakes)

  • Bakersfield, California (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires and earthquakes)

  • Carson City, Nevada (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires and earthquakes)

  • Las Vegas, Nevada (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires)

  • Phoenix, Arizona (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires)

  • Fort Collins, Colorado (but skipping ahead, they get earthquakes)

  • Pueblo, Colorado

  • Casper, Wyoming

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfire, and are too close to a volcano)

  • Amarillo, Texas (but, skipping ahead, they get wildfires)

  • Fort Worth, Texas

  • Dallas, Texas

  • Grand Forks, North Dakota

  • Fargo, North Dakota

  • Pierre, South Dakota

  • Springfield, Missouri (but, skipping ahead, they get tornados)

  • Columbus, Georgia

  • Macon, Georgia

  • Atlanta, Georgia

  • Columbia, South Carolina

  • Greenville, South Carolina

  • Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Norfolk Virginia

  • Richmond, Virginia

  • Baltimore, Maryland

  • Bangor, Maine

  • Augusta, Maine

  • Portland, Maine

As for how Independent Researchers concluded that north west New England would have more severe flooding than the coastal side, I can only guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Next up, wild fires!


WildFire Hazard Potential 2020 Map from Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, that I slapped some cities on
WildFire Hazard Potential 2020 Map from Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, that I slapped some cities on

Thankfully, areas prone to wildfires aren't as dominant as flood planes. Working generally from west to east, here are wild fire prone cities to avoid:

  • Spokane, Washington

  • Salem, Oregon

  • Oakland, California

  • Los Angeles, California

  • San Diego California

  • Bakersfield, California

  • Fresno, California

  • San Francisco, California

  • Sacramento, California

  • San Jose, California

  • San Bernardino, California

  • Carson City, Nevada

  • Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Missoula, Montana

  • Butte, Montana

  • Boise, Idaho

  • Pocatello, Idaho

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico

  • Roswell, New Mexico

  • Phoenix, Arizona

  • Tucson, Arizona

  • Salt Lake, Utah

  • Denver, Colorado

  • Rapid City, South Dakota

  • Amarillo, Texas

  • Abilene, Texas

  • Lubbock, Texas

  • Wichita, Kansa

  • Topeka, Kansas

  • Biloxi, Louisiana

  • Miami, Florida

  • Tallahassee, Florida

  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida

  • Orlando, Florida

Assuming wildfires aren't your jam, maybe just dodge California altogether. Looks like only the far east of California has any land that isn't prone to burning.


Useful links:


On the off chance you live somewhere that gets neither flooding nor fires, how do you fair against tornados? For context, I'm writing this on 03/21/2022 from College Texas, waiting for the tornado watch to upgrade to a warning.


Tornado Warning Frequency 208-2016 Map, from usgs.gov
Tornado Warning Frequency 2018-2016 Map, from usgs.gov, again, that I added cities to

While the west coast is speckled with wild fires, the eastern leaning south-central USA gets tornados. Working from west-east, here are cities plagued by frequent tornado warnings:

  • Denver, Colorado

  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Springfield, Missouri

  • St. Louis, Missouri

  • Nashville, Tennessee

  • Memphis, Tennessee

  • Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Springfield, Illinois

  • Meridian, Mississippi

  • Birmingham, Alabama

  • Montgomery, Alabama

Then there's earthquakes. An itty bitty earthquake hit NY when I lived on Long Island, and I was super confused. I figured earthquakes were something that happened along major fault lines, where there were volcano chains. And yes, while they're more common there, that doesn't mean we can't still get them elsewhere.


USA Map of 2% chance of earthquakes happening in the next 50 years, as per AmericanGeoSciences.org
USA Map of 2% chance of earthquakes happening in the next 50 years, as per AmericanGeoSciences.org. I had to add the cities.

This map is pretty colorful, but it only shows the likelihood of there being a 2% chance of an earthquake hitting the indicated areas in the next 50 years, so it's not super alarmist. That said, generally moving from west to east, here are the cities most likely to be hit by an earthquake:

  • Seattle, Washington

  • Olympia, Washington

  • Portland, Oregon

  • Salem, Oregon

  • Eugene, Oregon

  • Oakland, California

  • San Francisco, California

  • San Jose, California

  • Los Angeles, California

  • San Diego, California

  • San Bernardino, California

  • Bakersfield, California

  • Fresno, California

  • Sacramento, California

  • Carson City, Nevada

  • Reno, Nevada

  • Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Provo, Utah

  • Missoula, Montana

  • Helena, Montana

  • Fort Collins, Colorado

  • Evansville, Indiana

  • Memphis, Tennessee

  • Nashville, Tennessee

  • Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Charleston, South Carolina

Again, that west coast ain't looking too safe. Now, what's crazier than getting hit by a tornado, or an earthquake? Why, a volcanic eruption. Is it likely? I hope not, but let's add those anyway. Best to be overly safe.


Potentially Active Volcanoes of Western USA, excluding the many volcanos of Alaska and Hawaii, map from USGS: Volcano Hazards Program
Potentially Active Volcanoes of Western USA, excluding the many volcanos of Alaska and Hawaii, map from USGS: Volcano Hazards Program

Here's the thing about volcanos, the ash fallout ranges vary a lot. If you watch TV, you've probably heard about the legendary supervolcano in Yellow Stone National Park, and how if it erupts, all but the east coast of the USA will be uninhabitable, and there will be a new world wide ice age. I won't be taking that possibility into account for today's blog post. That's fatalistic thinking. I'm instead treating all of the volcanos listed above like Mount St. Helens, of Washington State, which erupted on May 18th, 1980. When St. Helen's blew, it killed everything within 230 square miles of the eruption site. It caused the largest landslide ever recorded. Having done exactly zero research on any of the volcanos shone above. I'm assuming each one would share that size kill zone. The east coast has extinct volcanos, but none (as far as I could tell, googling volcano maps) that are active, hence this west coast focused map. Of the cities listed above, which don't include the active volcanos in Alaska and Hawaii either, the following cities are too close to volcanoes for comfort.

  • Bellingham, Washington

  • Seattle, Washington

  • Portland, Oregon

  • Bend, Oregon

  • Eugene, Oregon

  • Sacramento, California

  • San Francisco, California

  • Reno, Nevada

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico

Excluding cities that are on flood planes, or are prone to wildfires, tornados, earthquakes, or are too near volcanoes, leaves us with plenty to pick from, mostly in the middle states, or along the east coast. As a bonus, I've sorted those cities least prone to natural disasters, by yearly crime rates, per 100,000 people, with the least violent at the top:

  1. Bangor, Maine: 176.4

  2. Grand Forks, North Dakota: 256.67

  3. Portland, Maine: 286.58

  4. Raleigh & Durham, North Carolina: 295

  5. Augusta, Maine: 323.92

  6. Richmond, Virginia: 349

  7. Fargo, North Dakota: 417.91

  8. Greenville, South Carolina: 477.7

  9. Pierre, South Dakota: 498.22

  10. Charlotte, North Carolina: 498.9

  11. Columbia, South Carolina: 521.3

  12. Norfolk, Virginia: 555.90

  13. Fort Worth, Texas: 560.21

  14. Columbus, Georgia: 655.33

  15. Macon, Georgia: 708

  16. Dallas, Texas: 774.64

  17. Atlanta, Georgia: 935.72

  18. Baltimore, Maryland: 2,027.01

So there you have it! By my arbitrary standards⁠—Of the safest cities from natural disasters, and further sorting by violent crime stats, Bangor Maine is America's safest city. Thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!


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