Dave Frisina kayaking Florida’s Rainbow River, on the northern Gulf Coast, where he volunteers doing boat patrols. | Credit: Dave Frisina

USA - Why Retirees Flock to Places Where Climate Risk Is High

Even insurance companies are cutting and running — should you, too?

Over four decades, Dave Frisina became a local institution as a radio personality in Syracuse, New York. Now 68, he still streams a weekly music program — but he does it over the web from his new home in Florida. In 2021, Frisina and his wife, Jennifer, joined the legion of retirees still flocking to Sunbelt states like Florida, Texas and Arizona.

It's as if many older Americans somehow missed the headlines about how the U.S. so far this year has endured a record $23 billion in damage from weather disasters in which climate collapse has played a hand. Over the summer — the hottest on record, globally — high temperature records fell like dominoes across the nation, particularly in the Southwest.

But no climate statistics or even real-life brushes with disaster seem to have stanched the flow of retirees and others to the Sunbelt, especially the most vulnerable coastal regions.

"The most flood-prone U.S. counties saw 384,000 more people move in than out in 2021 and 2022 — a 103% increase from the prior two years," the real estate company Redfin found in a Summer 2023 survey.

Redfin found the same trend took hold in "places most vulnerable to wildfires and heat." Between the 2010 and 2020 U.S. Census, Florida alone added 2.7 million residents.

Blood is Thicker than Weather

For the Frisinas, the attraction was among the most basic: family. Dave's mother was living in Dunnellon, a small Central Florida town about a half-hour's drive southwest of Ocala. At 91, she could use some help and the fact that she owned her own home kept Dave and Jennifer out of the overheated Florida real estate fray.

A couple at a restaurant smiling together. Next Avenue
Dave Frisina says that for now, the “pluses” for him and his wife, Jennifer, outweigh the risks of Florida living.  |  Credit: Dave Frisina

"I mean, houses that were relatively inexpensive, like a two-bedroom, two-bath house [that] was 175 (thousand), all of a sudden was three and a quarter," Frisina recalls. Doing some upgrades and moving into his mother's house seemed like a slam dunk.

Frisina was also not sorry to leave the legendary Syracuse winters behind. "After over 65 years of wintertime, I wasn't going to miss that part of it," he admits.

While the humidity can be oppressive, at least he doesn't have to shovel it. "I enjoy the fact that we have basically two seasons here: summer and fall. Summer is hot and humid and fall goes from October until May," he rhapsodizes.

Nothing to See Here

Asked if the topic of climate change ever comes up in conversation with his neighbors, Frisina's answer is succinct and unhesitating. "No," he says. That includes newcomers to his area. "I haven't really heard anybody mention or talk too much about climate change."

But in terms of the collapsing climate as we've known it, the long-term outlook for Florida is bleak. According to the Florida Climate Center, "sea levels across Florida are as much as 8 inches higher than they were in 1950, and the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating."

Scientists expect the sea to rise another foot along the entire East Coast over the next 30 years, matching the increase over the past century. Some cities — among them Miami; Charleston, South Carolina; and Virginia Beach — already experience flooding at high tides.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels, which emit heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and cause the oceans to heat up, tropical storms suck up more moisture from the warmer oceans and dump it on coastal communities in unprecedented amounts.

In April of this year, a single storm dropped more than two feet of rain on the Ft. Lauderdale area within a few hours, causing widespread flooding. And that wasn't even a hurricane. "We're going to have a flood regime shift," says NOAA oceanographer William Sweet. "Disruptive flooding is going to become damaging. Damaging flooding is going to become more destructive."

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