Worst Places to Retire for Weather and Natural Disasters

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

May 3, 2011 — When it comes to selecting your best place to retire the weather, climate, and exposure to natural disasters can have a major impact on your retirement enjoyment. We think these are important factors to consider, along with cost of living, taxes, culture, proximity of friends and family, and recreational opportunities.

Before we discuss some regions and cities that rank poorly for weather, let’s talk about the kinds of weather and natural issues that could be detrimental to your retirement. Some of these phenomena are inconvenient, while others are deadly serious:
- Sunshine. It’s true, people are generally happier when the sun shines. Rainy day after rainy day does not…

do much for the spirits. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder can be prone to moodiness and loss of energy in dark winter months.
- Humidity. Many people have a negative reaction to high humidity, while for others it is a non-issue. For the most part, however, it is not life-threatening. Cities along the Gulf Coast from Texas – Florida and up through the Carolinas are notorious for high humidity.
- Temperature extremes. It’s no secret that Alaska, northern New England including New York State, and the northern mid-west can be bone chilling much of the year with their long winters and very short springs, summers, and falls. Arizona, southern Texas, and the Gulf Coast are paralyzingly hot during their long summers. Surprisingly, heat is a deadly killer compared to most other disasters – an estimated 10,000 people died in a 1980 heat wave, and 502 died in a 1999 heat wave.

- Tornadoes. This April’s horrendous tornadoes highlight the real danger that this type of natural disaster brings. With over 300 people killed and 1,000 tornado reports, April, 2011 will most likely set a record for the worst tornado month in U.S. history. Tornadoes are quite common in the Midwest and southeastern U.S. and Midwest, but can and do occur just about anywhere.

Earthquakes, Floods, Hurricanes, and Other Disasters. Earthquakes plague many parts of American and Canada. Although California and the Northwest are most common sites for earthquakes, they are not unheard of in other parts of the country such as the Yellowstone area, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, New York State, and Georgia. Earthquakes not only cause horrible properly damage but can kill as well.

Anyone who watched the news this week knows that the cities and states along the Mississippi have the worst flooding problems, along with those regions drained by its tributaries from Minnesota to Louisiana to Tennessee and Pennsylvania. But flash floods can occur almost anywhere in low lying areas.

The hurricane belt runs east from Texas along the Gulf Coast, all the way around both coasts of Florida and its interior, and then goes up the Atlantic coast all the way to Maine. Hurricane Katrina caused $133.8 in property damage and 1833 Deaths. Here is a link to NOAA’s site on hurricanes.

Tsunamis, volcanoes, and mudslides can hit the west coast. Most of the western and southern U.S. is exposed to wildfires. Drought can and does occur anywhere. Allergies are another important issue for many people, often triggered by factors like pollen, dust, or mold.

Safe Harbors have other problems
The truth is that almost every area of the country is exposed to weather problems and natural disasters – there is no truly safe place and very few ideal regions. The New York Times reported in its “Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster” 8 Metro areas with the lowest risk, using data from Sperling’s Best Places. All but one (Grand Junction, Colorado) are in Oregon or Washington State. Unfortunately many of the lowest risk cities have other, less dangerous weather issues. Four of the 8 safe harbors, including Seattle, Salem (OR), and Corvallis (OR) are some of the cloudiest and rainiest places in the U.S. (See reader comment below questioning Seattle’s inclusion on this list).

Worst Regions and cities for natural disasters:
What city has been hit by the most tornadoes? Oklahoma City. The National Weather Service reports that Oklahoma City has had the most reported tornadoes – over 100. ). Tornado Alley as identified by NOAA starts in the top half of Texas and runs due north through all but the most eastern portions of that state and Oklahoma, most of Kansas, and the eastern parts of Nebraska and South Dakota. But tornadoes can and do happen about anywhere, particularly to the east of the Alley in states like Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Illlinois, Ohio, and the Carolinas.

Most vulnerable and overdue cities
Weather.com has published an interesting list of the most vulnerable and overdue cities for a weather related disaster. Somehow these cities, all of which lie in hurricane lanes, have managed to escape serious storms that struck their close neighbors. The list: Atlantic City, NJ; Savannah, GA; Tampa Bay, FL; New York, NY; and Miami, FL.

10 Worst Places for Rain and Clouds
The Farmers Almanac published a list in 2006 of the 10 worst cities for weather. Most of them are downwind of the ocean or a large lake. They sound dismal!
- Quillayute, Washington—The number one worst weather location. It is tied with Astoria, Oregon as the cloudiest U.S city (240 days). It is also the most humid (83%), second for rain (104.5 inches) and rainy days (210)

- Astoria, Oregon—Ties Quillayute for cloudiest in the nation (240 days), and plenty rainy too

- Marquette and Saulte St. Marie, Michigan—These cities tied because they ranked so high for cold, snow, and rain

- Syracuse and Binghamton, New York— Another close tie based on precip and clouds. We should add that winters are very long here

- Elkins, West Virginia— A very rainy city, as is nearby Pittsburgh PA

- New Orleans, Louisiana – Humid with a chance of hurricanes and flood

- Eugene, Oregon – Cloudy and humid

- Hilo, Hawaii – Gets the distinction of being the wettest city in the U.S. – a 75% chance on any day. Not to mention tsunami threats, and nearby volcanoes. Note: We still love this city, when it’s not rainy it’s very nice.

Honorable Mentions for Poor Weather
Junea, Nom, and Anchorage in Alaska
Many cities in Michigan east of the lake (Alpena and Grand Rapids)
Burlington, VT

The Bottom Line
As always, keep in mind your retirement priorities when factoring in the weather. Burlington, VT, while cold and snowy, can be a Mecca for folks who like to ski, boat, or enjoy the ambiance of a college town. New Orleans, of course, is ground zero for great food and music, despite its humidity and vulnerability to natural disasters. And Hilo, Hawaii, is stunning despite being the wettest place in the U.S.

For further reference:

For further reference:
Climate comparison (from Weather.com)
Farmer’s Almanac Worst Weather Cities
Billion dollar U.S. weather disasters
My Search for the (Almost) Perfect Retirement Climate
Worst States for Retirement

What do you think?
Use the Comments section below to tell us about your weather and natural disaster concerns. Is your dream retirement town better than the bad press it might get?

Posted by John Brady on May 3rd, 2011
Comments (23)
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23 Comments »
scottp says

I think this is a very timely article in light of the tornado’s that have ravaged the southeast. My cold winters and dreary spring in New York pale in comparison to those. Also a good argument for considering a retirement in two climates, which was discussed in a previous article.

May 3rd, 2011 | #

Nancy says

There are a few other factors needed to be considered:

1. Proximity to airports etc. for family
2. Political atmosphere (face it a progressive would be miserable in highly conservative areas. So know the political layout first!)
3. Religious preferences. Are there Catholic churches or Synagogues or just one major religious entity for the area.
4. Culture – schools, colleges, classes, museums, art galleries

May 4th, 2011 | #

Texas Cheerleader says

Good overview! And excellent advice to “know thyself” when picking a region. Texas, for example, has several climatic zones, and ranges in elevation from sea level to a mile high. So Fort Davis and Beaumont will seem like two different states. Moving 100 or miles away from the Gulf coast will make a difference in humidity, too. And that distance east or west from I-35 will convince you that you’ve discovered truly new territory. A gardener might enjoy the 40 inches of rain in Nacogdoches, while the kite maker could prefer San Angelo. Keep up the interesting topics!

May 4th, 2011 | #

Rona says

As someone who used to live in the Syracuse area…aw, heck…the weather’s okay. You get used to it, but it’s a pretty livable area with some wonderful people and fine resources from education and sports to professional theatre, opera, ballet, and good restaurants.
I went to college there…hated the first year until I made my peace with the weather. Began to like the slower, smarter pace (I had come from Jersey). Wound up staying 19 years. It has all the advantages of a big city, yet if you drive 15 min. in any direction, you’re out in the country… i.e. cows, snowmobiles, great produce stands where they leave the box out for your money and trust you. The people are fine, the road crews know how to get rid of the snow… and fast! They are hurting economically and have been for several years, but the university, the terrific hospitals, the cultural arts community, and the people just keep it going. And it’s the venue for the N.Y. State Fair each year. Where else can you get up in the morning, go to Canada for lunch, and come back for a performance at Syracuse Stage?

May 4th, 2011 | #

Wily says

Given the high probability of an 8.5+ magnitude earthquake along the fault lines in the Pacific Northwest, I am startled to find Seattle listed as a safe harbor. Both Portland and Seattle are statistically due for a destructive seismic event on a scale comparable to the recent quake off of Japan’s northeast coast. Both cities, but especially Seattle, are off my list of prospective US retirement sites.

May 4th, 2011 | #

Bill S. says

Excellent column, and good additional first-hand information from readers. We’ve lived for many years in South Carolina and Georgia and despair of the long hot, humid summers. We know others like that kind of weather, but we’re ready for a change, so we’re moving to New England (mostly to be with our kids). Please know that while there are wonderful aspects to life in GA and SC, beware of things like exposure to storms and hurricanes, a generally ultra-conservative political attitude and that darned humidity! There are, of course, good people everywhere!

May 4th, 2011 | #

LuluM says

Note: Grand Junction has none of those! VERY dry climate and no earthquakes! And lots of Golf.

May 5th, 2011 | #

Patricia says

The Mid-Atlantic states were not mentioned. The Eastern Shore and its proximity to Annapolis, MD, Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD is a great place to live with 4 true seasons and little natural disasters.

May 5th, 2011 | #

oldnassau says

From the perspective of a retiree who bicycles/jogs/hikes four months in Burlington, Vt. and eight in Pam Beach, Florida, I declare “Depends on the time of year”. Actually, Vermont in the summer is much like southern Florida in the winter: wonderful. Temperature between 70 and 80, rained today in Palm Beach for the first time in weeks. Meanwhile, raining so hard in Vermont that the scenic cycling roads near Lake Champlain are being closed. And, in a month, when I’m up in Vermont, I’ll be reading about the hurricanes and rain in Florida.
If you’re a one place person for whom weather is a priority, I would recommend northern Florida, inland. Sometimes cold but not as brutal in the summer.

May 5th, 2011 | #

Vince Proctor says

While Grand Junction may be dry and provide lots of golf, the cost of living, especially medical care and groceries is 36% higher than the national average.

May 6th, 2011 | #

david huckabee says

my wife and i have been doing a lot of research, for a place that meets all or most of our desired factors for retirement. we have visited NC, ARK, 2 times to Texas, 2 times to Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, NEW MEX, Florida, 2 times to Illinois and we have lived in southern California for 30 years. the 2 things we agree we do not want are, high humidity and any place in California. recently we have discovered a real possible location. it is Spokane, Washington state. all the data seems to be very close to what we want. we plan to go visit, this Sept 2011. we have high hopes. will update when we return.

May 7th, 2011 | #

Jan Cullinane, co-author The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your LIfe (Rodale 2007) says

I recently attended a talk given by a geologist. He had several good points – if you’re considering building a home, find out what your home will be built on. Homes built on expanding soils and/or clay may cause the home to shift – or worse – over time. Some homes have been built over actual fault lines. And, is radon present in the area? Radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer (after smoking). You can go to Home Depot or a similar type of store and buy an inexpensive canister to test for radon. Fairly inexpensive remediation is availale if radon is present.

May 8th, 2011 | #

A Tam says

Regarding Spokane WA see “Fraud: Scam Capital of America” (http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0525/106-investment-guide-09-scam-capital-of-america.html)

May 15th, 2011 | #

Tom says

I have lived in Florida most of my life. I lived in CO. For a year in the Army. I loved it. Would consider Denver or COS for retirement. Hate the high humidity of FL

August 7th, 2011 | #

» Worst States to Retire 2012: Northeast and Midwest Come Up Losers Topretirements says

[...] Climate. We believe the majority of today’s retirees have a bias towards places with warmer winters. States north of the Mason-Dixon line were awarded a negative 1 point for their colder climate. (See also our 2011 article – “Worst Places to Retire for Weather and Natural Disasters“) [...]

January 10th, 2012 | #

david huckabee says

wife and i made the Spokane wa trip. while up there, we wandered into Idaho. we now have to redo our thinking, about our plans for retirement. i think the beauty and fresh air of that state, overwhelmed our senses. we returned to mexifornia, bought a travel trailer/truck setup and started downsizing our accumulated life. i know snow may be a problem for us up there, but we think we can survive it. our life is headed into a new adventure with new energy.

January 11th, 2012 | #

Carol says

Ten years ago we retired to a beautiful area of TN knowm as Fairfield Glade. It is a resort with 12,000 acres and lots of amenities. It is heaven for golfers. We were joked about by our eastern friends for moving to TN, but this community has folks from all over the country, many professionals. The county is low population, around 50,000. The closest town is Crossville. Being on a plateau, the summers are nice, not as hot or humid as the rest of TN. Winters are very mild. Our daughter in southern NM has had more snow than we in the past 4 years. The snow is gone in a few days. For a small rural county, we have culture available; great playhouse, art center, new large library, community chorus and talent from Knoxville. Great selection shopping is NOT near by, unless you travel to Knoxville about 1,1/2 hrs away. Lots of wildlife to see and looks much like PA without the bad winters.

February 8th, 2012 | #

dee says

The puzzling statement “Northern New England including New York State…” is made but New York State is not part of New England. Might as well say “Northern Europe, including Madagascar…”

July 18th, 2012 | #

Barbara says

Carol -would Fairfield glade be a good place for someone 67 moving by myself? I would like to find activities where I could meet nice folks

July 19th, 2012 | #

Ursula says

Barbara, I feel like you …. am in your age bracket and have absolutely no family anywhere in the world, plus my few old-time friends from many years ago are scattered throughout Connecticut, Maryland and California. I now live in Arizona and after living here for 3 times, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I do NOT like this state and the types of people who live here. I am in a quandry as to where to move. I need “green”, but since I deal with old injuries I don’t know how I would fare in a place that has lots of humidity. I also would like to move to where there is quality medical care, because the saying here in Arizona is that the doctors here “will kill you”, and I personally have had some very bad experiences and have heard of cases that were so bad that the woman could have died. I’ve even thought of going back to Germany (where I am from originally), or “escaping” to New Zealand (which would most likely be a difficult undertaking at this age, or moving back to Montana where I should never have left, etc. If I were to be able to make a move, I would definitely need to have a place to go to when I arrived at that location, e.g., a house with garage, a condo with garage, etc. I am open to any ideas.

February 21st, 2013 | #

Kayleenea says

I TOTALLY disagree with Ursula, I live in Arizona too, Phoenix-Scottsdale area. We have some of the best health care ever. We have the Mayo clinic here plus awesome top notch doctors and hospitals. Great friendly people move here to retire from all over the country. Lot’s of big business have offices here. Fantastic restaurants and warm sunny weather. No earthquakes, snow, and humidity. Low taxes. We are seeing a real turnaround in the economy here!!!

February 22nd, 2013 | #

Larry says

Ursula, have you tried this site’s Retirement Ranger for some ideas? You get get a list of communities and cull through them to get a few you might like. After coming up with some ideas you might look at the active adult communities part of this website to get a sense of their how they might fit what you are looking for.

By the way, I’ve been through Montana several times but unfortunately, I was on the way somewhere else and didn’t really “see” it. What part of Montana did you like in particular and why?

February 22nd, 2013 | #

Anne says

Reply for Barbara,
If you’re thinking of retiring to Fairfield county in Ct. you will need to have a fairly good nest egg. All of Ct. is very expensive to live in. I’m in a slightly affluent town outside of Hartford and the costs here are high but Fairfield even more so. Fairfield has a large population of persons who work in NY. Salaries for most of these persons is quite high so the town reflects that with the types of shops etc. available. it is a pretty location, with both seashore and forested area. The state of Ct. does not do well for retired persons. Both personal and taxes on housing are very high. I believe I have read it is one of, if not the most expensive, state to live in. Public transportation is essentially non existent. Utility fees are also very high. There are several retirement communities thru out the state if that interests you but, again, costs are high and often times locations are not ideal. Without question you would need a car.
It does get quite hot and humid here in the summer and we do have some extremes of weather in the winter, ie: the recent blizzard which left me with 4 ft of snow in my driveway.
If you like New England I would suggest other locations. New Hampshire coastline, altho not extensive, is quite beautiful. Portsmouth, which is part of the coastal area is a wonderful little city with lots of interesting shops and various things on going all the time. I am still looking, knowing that staying in Ct. will mean that I will have to cut back on many things that I would normally wish to do because of the costs implicit with living here.

February 24th, 2013 | #

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