The Best and Worst Places to Live in the Midwest, Ranked by Climate Change Risk

By Christina Lorey

November 14, 2022

In the 1980s, a weather disaster costing $1 billion in damages hit the US once every four months. Today, they happen every three weeks, according to the latest National Climate Assessment

While no county is immune to the impacts of climate change, some are certainly more “climate-safe” than others. And in the Midwest, a region well-versed in weather extremes, Wisconsin is a notable bright spot.

The New York Times and ProPublica analyzed a variety of factors, including latitude, elevation, infrastructure, and long-term climate patterns, across counties in eight states (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) to determine their climate change risks.

TL;DR Researchers found the best and worst places to live in the Midwest. 

Here’s what they found:

Six of the 10 safest counties to live in terms of climate change risks are in Wisconsin: Menominee, Vilas, Winnebago, Shawn, Portage, and Polk. The remaining four are in Michigan: Keweenaw, Luce, Crawford, and Alger.

Northern counties offer better protection from heat stress, humidity, wildfires, crop loss, and overall climate-created economic damages. But even northern midwestern counties that historically have not been as hot can expect dramatic shifts in temperature if emissions continue at their current pace.

As temperatures continue to rise, the Midwest will also deal with poor air quality. Increases in this are associated with higher rates of lung and cardiovascular diseases, which can lead to hospitalization and premature death.

The worst places to live in terms of climate change are in southern Missouri and southern Illinois. Missouri’s Camden, Hickory, Wayne, Bollinger, Dunklin, Maries, Phelps, and Ripley counties, as well as Illinois’ Alexander and Pulaski, ranked lowest in terms of climate change protection.

Mental health problems are an often-overlooked consequence of climate change. The CDC warns that an increase in droughts, flash floods, and diminished air quality can cause mental health problems like anxiety.

The GOOD News: Small, simple changes add up! There are easy switches we can all make today to help reduce the effects of climate change and slow its impact.

Click here to learn what you can do.

RELATED: Wisconsin Winters are the 5th ‘Most Miserable’ in America


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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