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Why are some reconsidering where to retire?

Some Americans are now looking for the best places to retire for climate change. This would rule out Florida, the most popular state for retirees.
Posted at 3:44 PM, Jan 06, 2023

The sights of retirement: sandy beaches, drinks with umbrellas in them and card games with friends. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But there are the issues of today, issues playing a factor for some seniors considering a move as they get ready to retire. And now researchers say there is a small but growing consideration that might rain on the idea of a dream retirement destination. 

"There is no escaping climate disruption. Everyone will feel the effects and is feeling the effects now," said Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer at University at Buffalo. 

Redfin survey found more than 60% of homebuyers are hesitant to move someplace where the consequences of climate change are severe. That includes Florida, the most popular state to retire, according to WalletHub. 

In September hurricane Ian wreaked havoc as one of the strongest storms on record to hit the United States, with winds up to 155 miles per hour.

"It got terrifying. We were ready to go up on our plant ledge. The water was coming in. It was really scary. It’s not worth it. So yeah, it was tough. But we made it, we’re good," said Maureen Moravec, a hurricane Ian survivor. 

Census data shows three of the hardest hit counties are home to a high number of those 65 and older — an aged population that is nearly twice the percentage of the U.S. as a whole. 40% of the population in Charlotte County, just north of Fort Myers, is 65 or older. 

Researchers, like Matthew Hauer of Florida State University, believe dangers for a growing elderly population will increase with the impacts of climate change. 

"Some places are getting warmer. We're seeing more hurricanes and tropical cyclones in certain areas. And of course, cost of living is starting to play an effect as well. So, if you kind of take all three of these things together, it's sort of like a perfect storm. It's giving some people pause about where they're going to spend their golden years of their life," said Hauer.  

According to Redfin, more than half of baby boomers surveyed were wary of moving somewhere with extreme temperatures, rising sea levels or risk of natural disasters. These considerations are affecting real estate in Florida. A University of Pennsylvania analysis looked at about 1.4 million homes along Florida coasts. The study’s authortold the New York Times "the biggest sales declines occurred in Florida coastal communities where retirees from the northeast — particularly those who lived in counties exposed to hurricane Sandy in 2012 tended to move." 

And the climate impacts are not just affecting Florida. In Arizona, high heat and drought have killed off some of the state's most iconic plants. 

"Everybody thinks of cacti as these great desert plants, but if you desiccate, you know, if you don’t give any water to a cactus, it shrivels up and dies," said Larry Venable, a professor at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill.    

And on the west coast, climate changes are leading to longer and more active fire seasons. Musician Darryl Pete moved his family near San Francisco over a decade ago. Though they’ve been safe from worsening wildfires, they still feel the after effects.   

"You can wake up and your car can be covered in ash. The soot and the smoke. You see it, you know, vividly and clearly every day. So, it’s pretty scary," Pete said. 

Experiences like Pete’s are pushing some folks into other areas — known as "climate havens." 

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Nick Rajkovich is a professor at the University at Buffalo in New York.  He studied climate migration, or where people are moving because of changes in our climate.  

"People will potentially be retreating from the coasts. And it puts places like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Duluth in a situation where they may receive people in the future," Rajkovich said. 

Experts like Rajkovich believe drought in the Great Plains could push people to Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver. Wildfires and heat waves could push some Americans toward Maine and Rhode Island in the east. And rising sea levels in Florida, New York and California bring opportunity for growth to places like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit. But a massive migration to these areas has yet to be seen, despite a slow but growing awareness. While some retirees may be reconsidering, a recent University of Vermont study found Americans overall are still moving into regions facing extreme heat and worsening drought — not out of them. This is a decision Hauer says leaves residents vulnerable to potential health consequences spurred by extreme climate conditions — especially older adults. 

"They have increased social vulnerability to psychological stresses due to environmental change. They have a reduced ability to adapt. Older adults might have more limited transportation and reduced mobility. Sometimes they have smaller social networks, lower incomes. Sometimes you'll see chronic health problems, social isolation, sometimes even cognitive decline," Hauer said. 

And at its worst — death. Consider hurricane Sandy, which struck New York in 2012. Nearly half of the fatalities were among people 65 years old or older. In Northern California’s 2018 Camp Fire, of the 84 people who died, 71 were 60 or older. Hauer says the situation could worsen, and change the social safety net other cities will need to provide. 

"People are choosing to move to other locations, sort of maybe like new retirement destinations, we'll start to see shifts in the services that are offered in some of those areas. And we'll see, conversely, shifts in these services that are offered in sort of older, more established retirement communities. So, part of that might be new health facilities. It might be changing job landscapes for health care workers. And it could also be local economic development and given areas," Hauer said. 

For now, recent climate catastrophes are giving some retirees, like Darryl Pete, pause — not panic. 

"You can't go anywhere on this planet to avoid mother nature's wrath, you know, there's no place that's unaffected," Pete said.