Michigan’s climate haven is gleaming blue in a country of growing drought

The Great Lakes avoided extreme drought for 20 years. Meanwhile, parts of the Southwest have weathered extremely or exceptionally dry conditions for half or more of the last two decades. Rollover/click the counties to see underlying data.

Michigan has its share of hot, dry, summer days, but nothing like the extreme drought experienced in the US Southwest and other farm states where rivers run dry, and crops die of thirst by the thousands of acres.

The Great Lakes State is so immune from long-term drought patterns that the National Integrated Drought Information System – an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – doesn’t even include the state in its drought early warning system, the only Midwest state with that distinction.

“The fact that we are home to 20% of the world’s freshwater makes us highly desirable from a longevity standpoint,” said Ashley Soltysiak, climate and environment program director for the Traverse City-based nonprofit Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities.

Meanwhile, the Southwest just weathered the driest 22-year period in 1,200 years, and since 2000, thousands of wildfires in the west burned double the acreage they did in the 1990s.

That leaves Michigan looking increasingly attractive in a country where wildfires turn million-dollar mansions to ash in California, intensifying hurricanes sink homes along Florida’s coasts, and cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix face the alarming reality the Colorado River will no longer sustain them.

Related: Michigan is a climate haven in a warming world. Will everyone move here?

This state’s two peninsulas, meanwhile, have ample freshwater – the Great Lakes contain 90% of North America’s supply, lower temperatures, and vast swaths of undeveloped land.

If milder temperatures and water were beacons, they’d lead clearly to a region centered by Michigan, gleaming and blue.

More than 34 million people in the United States and Canada currently depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water, but experts predict that number may increase dramatically.

Jesse Keenan, an associate professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University in New Orleans, created a list of the best climate havens across the United States, and most are in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. They include Ann Arbor and at least six Great Lakes shoreline cities: Buffalo, New York; Detroit; Duluth, Minnesota; Milwaukee; Rochester, New York; and, Toledo, Ohio.

He predicts as many as 50 million Americans may relocate to climate havens within the US in the coming decades, likely sooner rather than later.

Internationally renowned researcher and author Parag Khanna thinks the Great Lakes, and Michigan in particular, will be the best place to live by 2050.

“Very few places really tick all those boxes the way the US-Canada border region in general and the Great Lakes in particular do, given the freshwater supply and so forth,” said Khanna, a Singapore-based geopolitics and globalization expert.

Related: Michigan must build carefully to protect its lush, green spaces

MLive interviewed more than a dozen academics and scientists – one himself a Michigan migrant, and all deem the state a climate haven, regions expected to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change and with capacity to develop infrastructure for growing populations.

Michigan, however, is not immune from the consequences of global warming, caused by human use of fossil fuels that drive the greenhouse effect. Heavier rainfall. Stronger snowstorms. Changes to plants and wildlife. And people – potentially millions more people.

MLive reporters spent months exploring Michigan as a climate haven and how best to prepare for the expected influx while still housing the current population, keeping down costs, and preserving the green and wild spaces that help make the state so alluring.

Related articles:

Michigan’s housing market is in crisis. Climate change could make it worse.

Fresh water will draw millions, but Michigan lacks systems to harness it

Letter from the Editor: Get ready, Michigan – climate migrants will be seeking ‘a pleasant peninsula’ in droves