SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. — Scientist Wallace J. Nichols has had to evacuate twice in just a year.
First, it was for a wildfire. Then this week, it was for an atmospheric river — a heavy storm that threatened to bring mudslides and debris flow to the burn-scarred area.
“It’s disastrous either way. Weather is changing and we have to be smart and nimble and creative," said Nichols.
Nichols learned this first-hand last year, after evacuating from the CZU Complex fire, only to go back to find his home and everything with it was gone.
“Nothing left, just a pile of metal and rock," he said.
So instead of rebuilding a traditional house, he now dwells in a series of experimental modular tent homes covered in tarps.
“Instead of one house with a bunch of bedrooms, it’s a bunch of bedrooms, with no house," said Nichols.
Losing his house to wildfire changed his perspective on the meaning of “home.” Now, it’s about adaptation and being mobile — leaving on short notice when disaster strikes.
“Losing everything you own is not something I ever want to experience again," said Nichols.
Just this past summer alone, nearly one in three Americans lived in a county hit by a weather disaster. As vulnerability to climate change grows, tents like these, called "Jupes," are one potential housing solution.
The tents are mobile, solar-powered and equipped with a mattress. Jupe’s founder Jeff Wilson says the concept is helpful for people displaced by climate change.
“I think there’s potential to put Jupes in all of these places where the wildfires have come through and devastate the land and allow people to come back onto it and enjoy it," said Wilson.
Next up for Nichols is another Jupe that’s equipped with a kitchen and bathroom. It’s how he’s adapting while dealing with the heartbreak of loss.
“Change can be scary or it can be an adventure and I think we have chosen the adventure route," he said.
When Spectrum News 1 spoke to Nichols, a storm was approaching.
“They’re saying up to 50 mile per hour winds. So that’s the kind of wind that’s going to throw dead trees all over the place," he said.
Nichols was standing in a beach lot, a place where he could take the packed-up Jupes and wait it out until it’s safe to return home.
“That’s kind of our thinking. How do we manage the future and the uncertainty that all this extreme weather brings? And that’s the plan," said Nichols.
For Nichols, the old way of living no longer makes sense so he’s adapting to a new way of life as the climate changes around him.