When Aaron Borovoy and his husband, Peter Ambrose, moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, from California six months ago, the retirees settled in a mobile home park and began to enjoy life along the Gulf Coast.
“It’s a beautiful place,” says Borovoy, 61. “There’s a lot to love about Florida.”
But the mood suddenly changed when Hurricane Ian bore down on the Gulf Coast in late September. “Here it is on the news — we’re, like, dead center where the hurricane was coming,” Ambrose, 57, recalls.
Fearing a massive traffic backup of residents fleeing the storm, the couple left six hours before local authorities issued the official evacuation warning. They packed their travel trailer, hitched it to their truck and found refuge in Louisiana. Leaving behind their new home was hard, they say, especially not knowing if it would be there when they returned.
“We might have come back just to survey the damage,” Borovoy says.
In the end, Ian did relatively little damage to St. Petersburg, instead inflicting much of its estimated $67 billion in destruction upon communities to the south, such as Fort Myers and Naples. But the emergency was a reminder that relocating to coastal Florida in retirement means learning to live with the threat of hurricanes.
Even so, it seems to be a risk many retirees and snowbirds are willing to take, in exchange for the chance to enjoy the warm, sunny climate and proximity to water.
“The knee-jerk reaction is to say, oh my gosh, there could be hurricanes, and nobody’s moving to Florida,” says Ken Johnson, a housing economist and professor at Florida Atlantic University. “Well, the evidence flies in the face of that. Hurricanes have been striking Florida way before any of us were alive, and people still have been moving here in massive numbers.”
A recent U.S. Census Bureau study found that between 2015 and 2019 — a period that saw hurricanes Irma and Michael cut swaths of destruction through the state — Florida drew an influx of 109,200 people 65 and older and a net gain of 53,150 residents in that age group — more than twice the gain in Arizona, the next most popular destination for the 65-plus.
Johnson says hurricanes have not affected housing demand and developers quickly rebuild in hard-hit communities. “There already are anecdotal stories coming out of the Fort Myers area, where people are showing up and wanting to buy lots” in devastated areas, he adds.