Even as insurers continue tallying their losses from September’s Hurricane Ian — Swiss Re’s latest estimate is $50-$65 billion, second only to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as the most destructive storm of all-time — residents and elected officials in southwest Florida have already begun debating how best to build back better. But they haven’t addressed the question of where to rebuild.
To answer that, we harnessed Climate Alpha’s Resilience Index™ to calculate a risk, vulnerability, and readiness score for every county in south Florida, then used our patent-pending Scenario Forecaster to project both the baseline and climate-adjusted Climate Price™ down to the zip code level. The results underscore how unevenly the effects of climate change are likely to be felt. Even in a state as vulnerable as Florida, some places are more vulnerable than others.
For example, Lee County — home to Fort Myers and Cape Coral, which lay directly in Ian’s path — is among the climate-riskiest in the state, second only to Miami-Dade. The three counties least at risk, owing in part to their higher elevation and being inland, are the less built-out Hardee, DeSoto, and Glades — implying the state still has plenty of room for safe(r) development.
The picture changes somewhat when the metric in question is vulnerability, which takes socio-economic and political factors into account alongside climate models. Lee County — along with Sarasota and Hillsborough (home to Tampa) — remain among the lowest scorers, but less so compared to south Florida’s Atlantic coast. DeSoto and Glade counties remain among the highest scorers, but are joined this time by Okeechobee, which lies on its namesake lake’s northern shore.
A more radical shift occurs when we start to calculate readiness — the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate disasters — rather than risk or vulnerability. Although no south Florida county scores highly in the scheme of things, Sarasota and Charlotte County (north of Fort Myers) leap to the top alongside Hardee, underscoring local resources and preparations to address their inherent vulnerability.
Taken together, what does this mean? From a real estate appreciation perspective, the prognosis for greater Fort Myers in a south Florida context is… not great. The safest zip codes from a depreciation standpoint lie immediately to the north, in Sarasota and Bradenton, underscoring the financial resources and political will available to invest in future adaptation efforts and disaster recovery. If this seems obvious, perhaps it should be — both path dependency and inequality will play roles in deciding which places are protected.
Zooming into the Fort Myers area, our Climate Price™ analysis platform first highlights zip codes projected to appreciate faster under a current “business-as-usual” scenario out to 2030. Darker shades indicate faster growth, in which case 33917 and 33905 — encompassing North Fort Myers and Buckingham — are projected to gain and retain value more than low-lying coastal areas such as Cape Coral.
This dichotomy is shown in even starker relief when our Scenario Forecaster swaps business-as-usual for one with more severe climate impacts. Once again, 33917 and 33905 are projected to out-perform formerly desirable coastline locations, now joined by 33913, containing Southwest Florida International Airport and mostly undeveloped land.
The takeaway is this: If southwest Floridians want to build back better following the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the state, they (and investors) would be smarter to rebuild ever-so-slightly inland to mitigate the worst effects of storm surge and sea-level rise while retaining access to their coastal lifestyle. That’s where the smart money is headed, anyway.
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