How Hurricanes and Wildfires Impacted Moves in 2023

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Atmospheric rivers that led to floods. An uncommon number of landslides. Unprecedented heat waves across much of the U.S. The fourth most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. Snowfall in Southern California. 

Clearly, 2023 was a tumultuous year, a fact that’s echoed in United Van Lines 47th  annual 2023 National Movers Study. 

While 2020-2022 caused people to reassess what mattered (and to move accordingly), people’s reasons for moving have become more complex, nuanced and varied than ever before. They want to truly connect with the place they call home and remote work allows them to prioritize their happiness and lifestyle preferences. Yet, they want to feel safe and secure where they live at a time when many dream destinations may cause them to think twice. 

It’s quite a contrast to last year’s study, when six out of the top 10 cities people moved to were oceanside. 

The likely reason? Weather notwithstanding, it has become harder to find insurers in coastal states. Farmers Insurance is among more than a dozen other Florida insurance companies that stopped writing home insurance policies in the state (both new and renewed), causing over 100,000 homeowners to clamber for new coverage in an ever-shrinking — but increasingly critical — market.  

Areas prone to wildfires aren’t faring better. 

Beginning in late 2022, four of California’s largest insurers either stopped or greatly limited new home insurance applications, destabilizing the insurance market. 

During the summer of 2023, smaller insurers like AMGuard and Falls Lake also filed withdrawals with the California Department of Insurance to policies at their renewal dates. Additionally, Safeco announced it would not renew some California policies for homeowners in San Francisco and the Bay Area. 

As climate change brings increasingly intense and destructive weather events, many Americans are packing up and moving to safer ground. Seeking refuge farther from the coasts and forests may only accelerate in the coming year.  

Wildfires Drive Migration Away from Western States 

Wildfires ravaging the western U.S. have displaced many residents, driving migration away from affected states. According to United Van Lines 2023 National Movers Study, the states experiencing the largest influx of new residents in 2023 are Vermont, Washington D.C., Arkansas and (mostly) non-coastal South Carolina. In turn, people are fleeing the threat of wildfires in states like California, Oregon and Arizona for Northeast, Midwest and southern states with lots of greenery and rainfall.  

Hurricanes Prompt Moves Inland from Coastal Areas 

The increase in powerful hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in 2023 has prompted many residents to move farther inland, away from the threat of dangerous storms. 

According to United Van Lines’ migration study, several Southern and Midwestern states — including Arkansas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama — saw inbound rates around 60% or higher, particularly in inland cities. 

Looking for alternatives?  

  • Austin and San Antonio, Texas: These central Texas cities have a lower hurricane risk but a similar Southern vibe. They also have booming job markets and culture scenes. 
  • Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville’s inland location spares it from the impact of most hurricanes. It’s also a popular city for relocation with an exciting music scene, outdoor activities and mild weather. Plus, rent and home prices are more affordable than many coastal cities. 
  • Phoenix, Arizona: For those wanting to escape hurricanes altogether, Phoenix offers desert scenery, 300 days of sunshine a year and mountain vistas. Job opportunities are also plentiful in this fast-growing city. 

Heavy Rains and Flooding Lead to Relocation in the South 

When your home gets inundated not just once but several times a year, it’s tough not to dream of drier pastures. Rather than deal with the recurring costs and headaches of flood damage, a lot of Southerners decided to cut their losses and relocate away from flood zones and hurricane belts.  

Although data does still show a significant percentage of inbound moves to states like Florida, Alabama and South Carolina in 2023, it’s important to note many of those moves were to inland cities like Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina (67.57%); Asheville, North Carolina (64.82%); and Montgomery, Alabama (63%).  

Meanwhile, states like Arkansas (60.16%), Tennessee (55.53%) and North Carolina (60.08%) saw an influx of newcomers, likely from residents of coastal states, who were seeking safer and more stable surroundings. 

While inland areas aren’t immune to natural disasters either, the risk of events like flooding, storm surge and wind damage from hurricanes are significantly lower further away from the coast. 

Climate Disasters Influence Moving Decisions Nationwide 

According to the United Van Lines study, states in New England and the Midwest saw a high percentage of inbound moves in 2023, including the chart-toppers of Vermont (65.46%) and Washington, D.C. (63.25%). By contrast, western states prone to wildfires — including California (42.47%) and Washington (47.82%) — had some of the lowest percentages of inbound moves. 

In many cases, Southern and Gulf coast states also saw lower inbound move rates, suggesting hurricanes influenced people’s relocation decisions.  

Take Florida as an example. The Sunshine State maintained its appeal as a retirement destination — 34.6% of those 55-64 and 44.9% those 65 and older moved there for retirement. However, young people are not flocking there for a lifestyle change — just 7.9%, in fact, among those 18-34. 

As climate change continues to fuel more extreme weather events, experts expect this trend of inland migration to persist. People want to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities, causing many to move away from areas frequently impacted by disasters. For some, the risk of losing property or even life due to events like wildfires or hurricanes outweighs any benefits of living in those locations. 

Relocation trends show climate disasters can have significant impacts beyond the areas directly affected. They are shaping where Americans choose to move and settle, as people seek refuge in more stable, disaster-resilient regions. For the foreseeable future, states in America’s heartland may see their populations grow as West Coast and Gulf Coast residents flee the threats of a changing climate. 

Wherever you’re considering moving to, United Van Lines can get you there. Explore your options with our immersive state and city guides and contact us to get a quote. 

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