The Worst Places to Retire: Weather and Natural Disasters

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

September 2019, 2017 — The triple whammy from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are causing a lot of people to reconsider where they retire. Some previous best places to retire might end up on the worst places to retire lists instead! But hurricanes are not the only natural disaster that can ruin your retirement – temperature extremes, earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, and flooding can be devastating too. Now, as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise to the highest levels in the history of the planet, our ice caps melt and sea levels rise, the dangers to where you decide from natural disasters are important considerations. it might be just as critical as cost of living, taxes, culture, climate, proximity of friends and family, and recreational opportunities.

In this article we will first talk about the kinds of weather and natural issues that could be detrimental to your retirement. While phenomena like high humidity are inconvenient, others are deadly serious. Further on in the article we will give some ideas on what you can do to mitigate your risks. This is the second in a series, the first part was “Should Retiring Snowbirds Rent or Buy: Hurricane Irma Offers Lessons“.

Hurricanes. 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. As we publish this article there are 2 active major hurricanes: Jose (at one point a Category 5) is dying out in the Atlantic after inflicting catastrophic damage, and Maria is striking the Caribbean with Category 5 force. Hurricane Katrina caused $133.8 in property damage and 1833 Deaths in 2005, the same year that Wilma flooded much of the Florida Keys. Here is a link to NOAA’s site on hurricanes.
In an average season we see 10 named storms of which 6 are hurricanes, and 2.5 of those are Category 3 or higher. So far in 2017 there have been 13 named storms and 7 hurricanes, with 4 of those a Category 3 or higher. But hurricanes are certainly not the only natural disaster that can wreak havoc on your retirement.

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 to 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 summers. Arizona, southern Texas, and the Gulf Coast are paralyzingly hot during their long summers. 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. The planet is getting warmer, so this problem will only get worse.

Tornadoes. With over 384 people killed, the 2011 Super Outbreak set a record for the worst tornado stretch in U.S. history. Tornadoes are quite common in the Midwest and Southeast U.S., but can and do occur just about anywhere, including as a component of many hurricanes. The so-called “Tornado Alley” stretches in the middle of the country from North Texas to Canada.

Earthquakes plague many parts of the U.S. and Canada. There have been 2 major earthquakes in Mexico this September. Although California and the Northwest are the most common places for earthquakes, they are not unheard of in other parts of the country including the Yellowstone area, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, New York State, and Georgia. Earthquakes not only cause horrible properly damage but can kill as well. Southern California has a 1 on 100 chance of a very serious earthquake in any given year. Uncontrollable fires and extended power outages are an attendant risk of earthquakes.

Floods. Cities and states along the Mississippi have some of our 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, as we have seen in Vermont, Colorado, and elsewhere. As sea levels rise coastal areas in the Southeast such as Charleston and almost all of Florida are increasingly inundated by unusually high tides. Many times the water floods in from underground.

Tsunamis, volcanoes, and mudslides can hit the west coast, including Hawaii.

Wildfires can occur anywhere, but are most common in the west and south. In 2017 much of Florida and Georgia were seriously affected by wildfires propelled by drought.

Very few safe harbors
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 8 Metro areas with the lowest risk in its “Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster“, 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 like earthquakes or forest fires. 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.

So what can you do
Unless you decide to retire on one of the few places in the world that are totally safe from natural disasters, you have to choose carefully among those that are less safe. Fortunately there are some practical steps you can take to minimize the dangers. We will explore some of those here, and hope that our Members will be able to suggest others.

Move to one of the States with the history of the fewest natural disasters. Those include much of Washington, Oregon, and upstate New York and Michigan, among others.

Check out building codes and how your home was built. Building codes vary by state and city. Typically the newer your home the more advanced techniques it has incorporated in it – like roofs that are tied down, extra bracing in the framing, attachment to the foundation, etc. When your home was built is significant, as is the reputation of the builder (as it very hard for a lay person to assess how it was actually constructed).

Use safer building materials and techniques. There are a number of things you can do to make your home stronger and more resistant to danger. If you live in an area with wildfires, choose concrete roofing tiles and siding. Get hurricane resistant windows or storm shutters – if a window is blown out by debris or wind your house can literally blow up in a hurricane. When buying a new home it is a lot easier to specify these things before it is finished, but retrofitting is always possible too.

Move to an area with strict development rules. The State of Florida is among many jurisdictions that have eased restrictions on developers in recent years, e.g.; allowing them to build in more dangerous areas, fill in wetlands, and cover natural surfaces with impervious materials. The unexpectedly high flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is a good example of what happens when authorities allow unchecked development. When considering an area to move to, explore how weak development controls, which can lead to flooding and other problems, might lead to problems there.

Stay away from coastal and other areas prone to flooding. FEMA has maps that rate the flooding risk just about everywhere in the country. Stay away from problem areas – even if it hasn’t flooded there yet!

Get high! High above the ground, that is. Even if the building code specifies a certain height for new construction, we are now seeing 100 year storms and even 500 year storms. The standard used to be 12′ above sea level, now it is higher. Go high if building a home from scratch. When buying an existing home, its height above potential flood levels is one of the most important things of all to consider.

Check out the area’s history of natural disasters. Fault lines, flooding, forest fires – these are all big problems. It is like marrying a partner with a history – be careful, some things can’t be changed!

What is your evacuation plan? Florida and The Florida Keys are a good example of places with that carry evacuation risks. The State has had mandatory evacuations, and when they happen, limited roads mean monumental traffic jams, fuel shortages, and the inability to get back home to work on damage. The pace of recovery is slow because it is so hard to bring in relief. If the area is hard to evacuate from, think twice about moving there.

The Bottom Line
It is easy to fall in love a place and decide to retire there. But before you make that choice, consider what natural disaster risks it might harbor. If there are risks, is there anything you can do to mitigate them.

For further reference:
What Hurricane Irma Can Teach Us About the Renting vs. Buying Question in Retirement
Farmer’s Almanac Worst Weather Cities

What do you think? Use the Comments section below to tell us about your weather and natural disaster concerns. Do you have a plan for how you can mitigate the risk of a natural disaster where you decide to retire.

Posted by Admin on September 19th, 2017

An Architectural Gem, And Everything You Might Want in a Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

August 8, 2017 — Would this checklist for a great place to retire work for you?
– All public buildings have world class modern architecture – Triple check!
– Plenty of parks and open spaces – double check!
– Community-minded town with extremely active library, senior center, recreation – triple check!
– Public art is all around – check!
– Home prices must be below national median – check!
– Walkable, interesting downtown – check!

We are talking about the fascinating town of Columbus, Indiana – just south of Indianapolis with a population of 45,000. On our recent two day visit your Topretirments editor was blown away by what a great place to live and retire this is. Yet when we mention it to people of no little sophistication, they say, Columbus….Indiana …. never heard of it. This is your opportunity to learn more.

It all started
Columbus is known for being the home of Cummins, Inc., the Fortune 500 corporation started in 1919 that designs, manufactures, and (more…)

Posted by Admin on August 8th, 2017

Two Towns in the West Top 2017’s 100 Most Popular Place to Retire List

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

July 27, 2017 – For the first time since Topretirements began running our annual list of America’s 100 most popular places to retire we have a winner from the west. In fact, we have two. Green Valley, Arizona took over the top spot from last year’s winner, Sarasota, Florida. Hitting #2 on our list is another town from Arizona, the former cowboy town of Prescott, north of Phoenix.

Green Valley is a sprawling area south of Tucson near the border with Mexico. It covers a vast area with all kinds of communities and developments – in fact it has 59 different home owner associations. Retirees like its relatively low cost of living, warm winter climate, the nearby Santa Rita Mountains, and the extensive non-profit Green Valley recreation complex.

Mountains near Green Valley

In gaining the #1 spot on our list, Green Valley was viewed over 12,000 times (more…)

Posted by Admin on July 26th, 2017

Topretirements Tours Clearwater/Tampa/St.Pete for Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

July 17 — In this article we will highlight our experiences and impressions from a recent trip to the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater area. We hope you find it useful.

All 3 cities on gigantic Tampa Bay are located on Florida’s West Coast, about half way down from FL’s northern border. For comparison, Orlando is located inland to the northeast, while Melbourne is parallel on the East coast. There are also a number of smaller towns in the area, a few of which we will talk about here. The area has a warm Florida climate influenced by its proximity to the Gulf, although it is not quite as warm in winter as towns further south like Naples or Miami. The area is densely populated. Traffic, particularly in the winter season and summer, can be quite intense.

Boats anchored in the Vinoy yacht basin marina, St.Pete.

St. Petersburg has, in our opinion, the best opportunities for retirement in this group. There is a compact urban center that is attractive and walkable. All (more…)

Posted by Admin on July 17th, 2017

Dueling Retirement States: The Mid-South, a Cost-Effective Choice

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

July 11, 2017 — In this installment of our “Dueling Retirement States” we compare and analyze retirement in the states that we will call the mid-South: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. See Further Reading at bottom for links to the other regional comparisons in our series, such as The Carolinas, Gulf States, and Florida vs. Arizona.

These states can provide many different retirement lifestyles. They have mountains, lakes, cities, and small towns. Beyond that, they offer some of the most inexpensive living situations available in the U.S. Your retirement dollar can definitely go farther here, especially with their generally tax-friendly reputations. Winters in these states are much milder than in the most of the rest of the country, with a climate that is amenable to an active retirement year round. They are also generally uncrowded and less congested than many other retirement locations.

In this article we will compare and contrast these four southern states:
(links go to our mini-retirement guides to each state). Population and income data is from American Fact Finder-U.S. Census Bureau.

A Few Facts
Georgia is the largest state by population and also the youngest and most affluent. In 2015 there were an estimated 4.9 million people in Alabama, 10.3 million in Georgia, 4.4 million in Kentucky, and 6.6 million in Tennessee. (more…)

Posted by Admin on July 11th, 2017

Midwestern Retirements Part 2: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

June 21, 2017 – Welcome to Part 2 of our magical midwestern retirement tour. Here is the link to Part 1, which covered the Michigan part of our tour from its Upper Peninsula to Empire (near Traverse City).

From beautiful Empire we followed Route 22 south along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is a pretty drive with frequent views of Lake Michigan and other lakes.

Scenic overlook

Muskegon has a big and busy commercial waterfront. According to our friends this small city of 38,000 is having a resurgence. Muskegon is the commercial center of this area, and this is where area residents come to shop and be entertained.

Muskegon near the waterfront

Grand Haven, just south of Muskegon, shares Lake Michigan and the banks of the Grand River with (more…)

Posted by Admin on June 20th, 2017

Michigan Is a Great Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

June 13, 2017 — Your editor went on a road trip last week touring potential retirement spots, and wow, was that a great experience. We learned so much from visiting so many places, as well as from the many interesting folks we met along our 1300 mile journey. Starting out from Illinois on the western side of Lake Michigan we ventured north into Wisconsin, then crossed Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After crossing the Mackinac Bridge we enjoyed several days in northern Michigan before going on to explore a few towns in Indiana and Ohio. The Great Lakes State (MI) was the main focus of the trip, and the first half of that State’s tour is what what we will report on here. Part 2 covers the rest of the Michigan tour, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio portions. We have included more photos than usual to give you a better flavor.

Michigan – A Great Place to Retire
We’ll give you the bottom line first – from so many standpoints Michigan, particularly the area along Lake Michigan, is a tremendous place to retire. It is exceedingly beautiful, uncrowded, and not super expensive (which also makes it a great vacation spot even if you are not going to retire there). The Lake is pretty to look at and offers exceptional boating and beach experiences. Yet its huge Great Lake is not the only body of water – there are rivers and a multitude of lakes, many of which are connected to Lake Michigan. Most towns are very pretty and lively. Its system of bike trails is one of the most (more…)

Posted by Admin on June 13th, 2017

Mejask’s Inside Report: A Hawaii Retirement

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Editor’s note: Our frequent commentator, Mejask, recently provided a detailed Comment about what it is like to retire in our 50th State. There was so much good information that we decided to republish it as its own Blog article. That way a lot more people will have a chance to read it. Thanks Mejask!

By Mejask

May 18, 2018 — Here is further information some of you wanted on Hawaii. A little about me so you have some gauge as to my views. I grew up in Illinois, lived some time in Washington state and the Southeast and then most of my career in Connecticut. I moved to the Big Island in July 2015. I have been to the Honolulu area on Oahu but not to Kaui or Maui which are the other islands people may choose to locate. My input on the islands that I haven’t visited will be brief and is mostly from what folks here have told me.

The Islands
Maui, Kaui and Oahu are much smaller in size than the Big Island and their land mass could easily fit inside the Big Island with room to spare. All of these islands are more expensive than the Big Island. The biggest expense difference is real estate. Each island is a county of Hawaii. You will not find typical (more…)

Posted by Admin on May 19th, 2017

Best Retirement States – Part 2: Pick Your Rating Factor

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

May 17, 2017 — Note, this is Part 2 of a two part article. Here is the link to Part 1: Crazy Lists and Not Much Agreement.

In Part 1 we compared 2 popular “Best States for Retirement” lists to the states where retirees actually move. It was not a pretty comparison. The 2 popular lists agreed on almost nothing, and neither one included more than one or two of the states where baby boomers actually move. To help you prepare your own best states to retire list, in this installment we will present various lists of specific attributes that retirees might be interested in, such as culture or climate. We have even included a few whimsical factors to liven things up!

Best Cultural Opportunities
WalletHub included a ranking for the top 5 and worst 5 states for museums (more…)

Posted by Admin on May 16th, 2017

Best States for Retirement Lists: Not Much Agreement Here

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Editor’s note: This is a 2 part article. Part 1 discusses two popular Best and Worst Places to Retire lists. Part 2 explores best retirement states from multiple perspectives – taxation, cost of living, culture, climate, cost of living, property taxes, etc.

May 9, 2017 — To paraphrase something from the news – “Who knew finding the best state for retirement was so complicated?” Eager to attract baby boomer readers for their advertisers, the publishers of these lists sometimes do it “scientifically”, using data to back up their picks, and sometimes whimsically, using 20-something writers for whom retirement conjures up geezers in rocking chairs and old folks homes. The results from these “Best” lists are so all over the place that is (more…)

Posted by Admin on May 9th, 2017