When Richard and Betty Ann Smith retired 15 years ago, they moved from East Brunswick, N.J., to Easton, Pa., and decided to start spending the winter months along the Gulf Coast of Alabama. From January through March, temperatures there are in the 60s and 70s — a climate the Smiths find much better for staying active than the winter weather in Pennsylvania.
“We go for golf, we go for fishing and we go for socializing with our winter friends,” says Richard Smith, 79, a retired Presbyterian pastor. “All along the coast, the snowbirds migrate, and they fill up the coast area in the winter.”
The Smiths, like others who have retired, found a new freedom as snowbirds — people who migrate to warmer climates each year usually sometime between December and January. As temperatures dip throughout the U.S., snowbirds head south to escape the winter wind, ice and snow of northern states. Health reasons such as pulmonary issues motivate some, while others simply prefer warm weather. And according to yearlong residents of those sunnier climates, the snowbirds who used to come just for winter are now starting to stick around longer.
Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, for example, the unofficial snowbird season used to be mostly January and February but now has extended from early November until March, says Kay Maghan, a spokesperson for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. “We are seeing a much longer stay from our snowbirds in the last four years,” she says.
“There is a growing number of people who are becoming snowbirds and who are staying longer,” says John F. Brady, founder of TopRetirements.com, a website that focuses on retirement issues. “Boomers – a large segment – are tired of winter and the hassles that come with it.”
In addition to Alabama, other states that have been popular snowbird destinations are Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and Texas, according to Homeaway.
Picking a snowbird destination — and deciding how long to stay there each year — depends largely on finances and tastes. Brady and his wife, Roberta, 65, who is a mystery writer, split their time between Madison, Conn., and Key West, Fla., which has become their primary residence. Others, like Washington, D.C., attorney Alan Tawshunsky, 64, continue to live most of the year in their home in the colder climate. Tawshunsky has spent the past three winters in South Florida, where he works remotely in his own law practice. “I prefer the milder weather in Florida to D.C. in the winter,” he says.
Lora and Kenn Krouse began leaving Athelstane, Wis., 23 years ago for Gulf Shores, Ala., when they retired from Procter & Gamble. Kenn Krouse says making new friends is a key part of being a snowbird. “You just start talking to people and pretty soon you got a new friendship started,” he says.
Getting ready to migrate to warmer climes takes some practice and preparation. If you think you might want to try to be a snowbird, here are a few things to consider:
- Decide whether to rent or own. If it’s your first time in a warmer climate, it may be better to rent first to see how you like the area. If you’ve already vacationed in a region before you retired, you may already know you want to spend the winters there. Typically, future snowbirds might spend time vacationing in a location, then rent for a month or longer, even in several different locations before deciding where to rent for several months or eventually buy, says Kenn Krouse. You can try out the place by renting, for example, through Airbnb or VRBO.