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Nov 22, 2022

Will Hurricane Ian Trigger Climate Refugee Migration from Florida?

Hurricane Ian destroyed property and disrupted livelihoods in some of Florida’s largest and most rapidly growing coastal and inland counties. For the thirteen counties declared eligible for federal disaster assistance in the immediate aftermath of this extreme weather event, we document the role net migration played in recent population growth—a crucial issue in climate change policy deliberations—and outline creative strategies and investments Florida officials will have to leverage to both rebuild and create resilient communities with reputational equity that remain attractive to newcomers as well as long term residents moving forward.


Thirteen of Florida’s counties were declared eligible for federal disaster relief following Hurricane Ian’s disastrous trek through the state (The White House, 2022). The human toll and economic impact are still unfolding. According to the latest estimates, Ian left in its path more than 100 deaths and property damage and loss currently estimated at $100 billion (Gerretsen, 2022; Bizouati-Kennedy, 2022; Barker, 2022; Deliso and Kekatos, 2022). Making matters worse, an untold number of households and businesses in some affected Florida communities reportedly did not have insurance coverage for flood-related damages and losses, making rebuilding extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some victims–federal disaster assistance notwithstanding (Ivanova, 2022; Santana & Philis, 2022).

Extreme weather events like Hurricane Ian are increasing in both periodicity and intensity. Scientific evidence points to climate change as the major culprit (IPCC, 2022; Vince, 2022; Wallace-Wells, 2022; Watson, 2022; Wheeling, 2021). Here in the U.S., one writer asserts, “…people have largely gravitated toward environmental danger, building along coastlines from New Jersey to Florida and settling across the cloudless deserts of the Southwest” (Lustgarten, 2020; also see Korducki, 2022). Recognizing attraction to vulnerable areas, multiple studies offer critical insights into the likely impact extreme weather events—and climate change generally—will have on future migration behavior of affected populations and resulting settlement patterns–domestically and globally (The White House, 2021; Voegele, 2021; Podesta, 2019; Peterson, 2022; Lusgarten, 2020a; Kahanna & Hassol, 2021; Henao, 2022; Hauer, 2017; Bermeo & Speck, 2022; Backman, 2022; Post, et al, 2009).

For jurisdictions that are highly vulnerable to extreme weather events—not only hurricanes but also tornadoes, tropical cyclones, floods, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and blizzards—the financial, economic, environmental,and geo-political ramifications are far ranging and in many ways difficult to comprehend or imagine (Lefebvre, 2021; Lustgarten, 2020b; Peterson, 2022; Quin, Fisher-Vanden & Klabier, 2018; Vince, 2022; Voegele, 2021; Wallace- Wells, 2022). As one study put it, “[a] great upheaval is coming,” noting further that “[t]hat the climate crisis has already uprooted millions in the US—in 2018, 1.2 million were displaced by extreme conditions, fires, storms, and flooding; by 2020, the annual toll had risen to 1.7 million people.” The study concludes, “The US now averages a $1bn disaster every 18 days” (Vince, 2022).

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