Ten days after moving from Boston to Sarasota, Florida, Mike Cahill’s family had to brace for catastrophic hurricane conditions for the first time in their lives.
“We just literally came down … and we get the worst hurricane Sarasota has had in 100 years,” Cahill said.
Data shows the Cahills aren’t alone. In the last 10 years, nearly 3 million people have moved to Florida, meaning more people than ever before are at risk when a hurricane or tropical storm hits the state.
When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992 as a monster Category 5 storm, the state’s population was around 13 million. Since then it’s ballooned to 21.5 million.
Researchers have estimated this week that Hurricane Ian will cause between $20-$70 billion worth of damages.
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Florida is known for its coastal views, and that’s where much of the population growth is happening, said Stephen Strader, a geography professor at Villanova who studies the effects of natural disasters. But the state’s ocean sunsets come at a price, he said.
“In Florida that growing and spreading means … we are putting more people in the path of these tropical storms,” Strader said.
Huge population growth in Florida
The enormous population growth in the Sunshine State has few rivals in the U.S., Strader said, apart from booming cities in the west like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“It’s its own animal in terms of how its been growing in the last 30 years, really since post-Hurricane Andrew,” Strader said.
When Hurricane Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida, Wednesday afternoon as a nearly Category 5 storm, about 2.5 million Floridians were under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders and millions have since lost power.
Three of the coastal counties that felt the full effect of Ian’s landfall rank among Florida’s most populous, census data shows.
Who is moving to Florida?
Florida’s warm weather, beautiful beaches and no state income tax have long been a draw for a wide variety of newcomers, even though it’s commonly thought of as a retirement haven.
Coastal counties like Sarasota, where Cahill just moved with his wife and 26-year-old son, have had growth fueled by retirees.
But growth in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, is fueled in part by young people looking for jobs, Baker said.
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Citrus, Pinellas and Sarasota counties — which are booming — actually lost population among people under 18, according to census data.
The state also became home to hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017.
Where are people moving to in Florida?
Wherever people settle, they’re at high risk of being affected by a wide variety of hurricane impacts like storm surge, inland flooding or rain, as is the case with Hurricane Ian’s effects across much of the state.
But certain parts of Florida that were directly in Ian’s path have seen tremendous growth in just the past decade.
The Villages, a community in central Florida east of Tampa grew 38.9% since 2010. The Orlando metropolitan area grew 25.3% and the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area grew 23%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Think of it this way, if you move to Florida you want beachfront property right? You want to be near the water, you want to see the sunset, sunrises,” Strader said. “People are going to push toward the coast.”
From 1990 to 2020, the number of homes in Florida went from about 6 million to 10 million, federal data shows.
“That means that there’s more people than ever before getting hit by these hurricanes,” Strader said.
Contributing: Terry Collins, Janna Herron, USA TODAY.