Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” –  is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays. 

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.


RALEIGH – I was browsing my news feed the other day, and I came across this provocative headline:

This Florida City Is the Best Place to Retire in the U.S., According to a New Study 

A headline like this invites speculation. What I was expecting was a lower-cost-of-living city perhaps toward the middle of the United States. My thinking was along the line that retirees would want to stretch their retirement dollars as far as possible.

Opening the article, it offers its criteria for picking the nation’s best retirement city:

“WalletHub analyzed 180 cities across the U.S., measuring each across its ‘45 key metrics.’ That includes the cost of living in each city, taxation, health infrastructure, the city’s number of recreation and senior centers, each destination’s population over 65, and even down to how many book clubs the city boasts.”

The amazing thing about this paragraph is that it does not mention anything about climate change. And this is one reason why the article’s top pick for the best retirement city in America is… drum roll please… Tampa, FL.

The anointing of Tampa is amazing for this simple reason: anyone who is paying attention to the effects of climate change – both now and in the future – sees Tampa as one of the riskiest places to move to. We can see why by watching a video like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Oe6YK0DgE

There are three big problems with Tampa from a climate change perspective…

Tampa Risk #1 – Heat

We just came through the hottest summer on record in the United States, and the three places that felt the heat the most are Arizona (Phoenix taking the prize for extreme heat), Texas, and Florida. In the video, she even calls out Tampa specifically as a hot spot:

Tracking heat in Tampa (PBS image)

The problem for the state of Florida is that it combines high heat with high humidity, making summer temperatures potentially unbearable for anyone venturing outside.

Tampa Risk #2 – Hurricanes

Not long ago we watched Tampa miss a direct hit from hurricane Idalia. But Idalia certainly was nearby, as seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5gvde2e6-g

This means that Tampa is sitting in harm’s way, and the city is primed for direct hurricane impact. The risks from a hurricane include the rain and wind generated by the hurricane itself, and then the storm surge that a major hurricane can cause.

Tampa Risk #3 – Insurance Prices

The third big problem across the state of Florida is the surge in prices for home insurance. We can get an appreciation for this problem from recent articles like these:

Home Insurance Prices Are Soaring — Especially in These 5 States – https://money.com/home-insurance-prices-soaring-states/

“No state has had it worse than Florida, where the average price of home insurance increased 68% in two years — nearly double the nationwide average of 35%. Home insurance has always been expensive in Florida given the risk of hurricanes and flooding. But prices have risen sharply since 2021 due to recent storms, high costs for insurers related to roof litigation and mounting concern about climate change, according to the report. Nine Florida property insurance companies have gone out of business since January 2021, and other home insurers are abandoning the state because it’s too costly to offer policies, making matters worse for homeowners seeking coverage.”

Renters likely to feel pains of Florida’s property insurance crisis, industry officials say – https://mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2023/09/13/renters-likely-to-feel-pains-of-florida-property-insurance-crisis

“An Osceola County homeowner recently told Spectrum News their policy premium went from $4,000 (2021) to $8,000 (2022) to now more than $17,000, despite no prior claims. The impacts are far and wide — from single-family homes to duplexes to apartment complexes. ‘Property insurance cost is one of our biggest challenges right now,’ said Alex Zweydoff, director of business development for Allegiant Management Group in Kissimmee.”

Americans flocked to Florida for low taxes and sunshine, but an under-the-radar cost of homeownership keeps rising: insurance – https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/homeowners-insurance-florida-cost-rising-2023-7

“’Florida is a unique marketplace where you see a culmination of hurricanes and severe weather, leading to Floridians paying the highest average insurance premium in the US,’ Friedlander told Insider. Friedlander said that the average Florida homeowner is paying nearly $6,000 for their property insurance, which is over triple the national average of $1,700.”

The problem is that things are only going to get worse for insurance prices across the state of Florida.

Think twice before retiring to Tampa

Add these three things together – Heat + Hurricanes + Insurance costs – and it is easy to understand that people should think twice before retiring to Tampa, FL. The effects of climate change in the years ahead are likely to be quite unkind to many different parts of Florida.

So, if Tampa is out, then let’s go back to the original article. Let’s look at its #2 choice for the best retirement city in the United States. Another drum roll and… it is Scottsdale, AZ. As unbelievable as it sounds, the city right next to Phoenix, AZ is being recommended as a good place for retirement.

In the years ahead, is the Phoenix/Scottsdale area even going to be survivable? Between the heat and the lack of water, the region may go into an economic death spiral in the not-too-distant future. This video paints the picture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpBDVy_pAmk

Can’t wait to see what happens to Phoenix next summer.

Watch this video again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_Oe6YK0DgE

It really is a helpful way to think about the risks of climate change when picking your next place to live. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. See also this article for another angle on the Florida insurance crisis:

Hurricanes & insurance: How prices could ignite mass migration from Florida  – https://wraltechwire.com/2022/12/16/hurricanes-insurance-how-prices-could-ignite-mass-migration-from-florida/