Florida’s population has exploded. It could make Ian more destructive: NPR

Eastbound traffic clogs Interstate 275 as people evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

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Florida's population has exploded. It could make Ian more destructive: NPR

Eastbound traffic clogs Interstate 275 as people evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

No state in the eastern United States has grown faster in recent years than Florida, which has added nearly 3 million people since 2010.

Now the state is once again in the path of a major hurricane, with Hurricane Ian expected to make landfall on Florida’s west coast overnight as a Category 3 or even Category 4 storm.

Tampa, Fort Myers and Sarasota — all among the state’s fastest growing metropolitan areas — fall within the range of projected trajectories, according to the National Hurricane Center.

More people — and more buildings to house them, often in coastal areas — mean a major hurricane could become more costly and destructive.

The population boom in hurricane-prone Florida is an example of the “expanding bullseye effect,” said Villanova University professor Stephen Strader, who studies the vulnerability of human environments to natural disasters.

Imagine an archer aiming at a target, he explained. If the center of the target is very small, the chances of the archer hitting it are low. But as the target grows, the archer’s chances improve.

“Instead of an arrow, we have dangerous events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Instead of having targets, we are the targets – our cities, our developed areas. And nowhere is that more easily seen than along our coasts,” Strader said.

Florida’s population boom

At a time when population growth has slowed to a breakneck pace in most of the United States, Florida has bucked the trend.

Among the nation’s major metropolitan areas, only Austin and Raleigh have grown faster than Orlando since 2010. Jacksonville and Tampa are 10th and 12th, respectively.

Small towns across the state are also popping up. Since 2010, no city in the eastern United States with a population of at least 50,000 has grown faster than Fort Myers, the seat of the largest metropolitan area between Tampa and the Everglades, which has added nearly 40% more inhabitants during this period. Other areas like Port St. Lucie, Lakeland and the Villages also grew rapidly.

Most of the state’s recent population growth has come from internal migration. In the year ending July 2021, nearly 221,000 Americans moved to Florida, an average of more than 600 people per day, more than any other state.

People move to Florida for all sorts of reasons: warm year-round weather, relatively inexpensive housing, no personal income taxes, and large communities of other retirees or immigrants, for example.

“People are able to look beyond the long-term risk and ask themselves, ‘Where do I want to be for the next 10 years of my life?'” Strader said. “But there’s also a game aspect to it, and unfortunately a lot of people are still willing to sit down at the table.”

More population means more damage

Officials have warned that Hurricane Ian could bring a major storm surge of 10 feet or more, along with 6 to 18 inches of rain. The geography of Tampa-St. The St. Petersburg region makes it particularly vulnerable to storm surges, experts said, and heavy rains could cause flooding even in inland areas.

With so many people living in areas that could be affected, damage estimates are staggering. Hurricanes are already the costliest natural disasters, and billion-dollar storms are happening more frequently than ever.

More than a million homes were within potential reach of Hurricane Ian, according to an estimate released this week by CoreLogic, a real estate analytics firm. In the worst-case scenario, the estimated value of reconstruction could total more than $258 billion.

The actual number is likely lower. And since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Florida building codes require new homes to be more storm-resistant.

Still, a Category 3 storm in such a populated area could cause more than $100 billion in damage, enough to place it among the four costliest storms in US history.

“Hurricanes set the stage for disasters, but the severity and impact are going to be determined by societal elements – things like poverty and exposure, like the number of people and the number of houses exposed, like the quality construction,” Strader said.

Newcomers require officials to communicate effectively

Newcomers should learn that hurricanes “are a part of life in Florida,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch.

“People who come to our state need to understand that when a storm like this hits and you’re in an evacuation zone, you need to have a plan and you need to move when told to do so,” said said Welch in an interview with NPR. .

The influx of newcomers means public communication about evacuation and shelter is vitally important, said Eren Erman Ozguven, director of the Resilient Infrastructure and Disaster Response Center at Florida State University and Florida A&M University. .

“There are Floridians who have seen so many hurricanes over the past few decades who have muscle memory, and there are those who have moved to Florida over the past decade. Many of them have not not seen a hurricane,” he said.

To add to the challenge, many of the newcomers are retirees. “They may or may not have a smartphone, and they can still rely on traditional communication like radio or television,” Ozguven said.

The last major hurricane to hit West Florida was in 2017, when Hurricane Irma hit the eastern portion of the Fort Myers-Cape Coral metro area; tens of thousands of people have settled in the area since then. In Tampa, no hurricane has hit the city directly in decades.


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