Where to retire? Classic Sun Belt destinations of Arizona and Texas are now too hot for elderly people to safely live there, experts say
Retiring to a place in the sun will cost thousands of seniors their lives, experts warn, as rising temperatures leave them at the mercy of failing power grids.
Record numbers of retirees are flocking to the Sun Belt states to the south, drawn by the lower cost of living and the prospect of warmer winters.
But temperatures are rising dangerously in the most popular destinations with 110F in Phoenix for 31 straight days this summer and 116F measured in Nevada, condemning many to months indoors and putting them one power outage away from danger.
Georgia Tech’s Brian Stone Jr. has calculated that a 48-hour blackout in Phoenix could cost 13,000 lives, most of them elderly, when combined with high summer temperatures — because older Americans are more susceptible to heat-related illness.
“Extreme heat is the deadliest form of weather in the United States,” he told the paper New York Times“much more than hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfires.”
A hiker ended her hike early to avoid the high temperatures on July 10 in Phoenix
EMT personnel assisted a man who collapsed into 110F near downtown Phoenix in July
Diana and Charles Cox moved from San Jose, California, to the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear in 2016, attracted by the lower cost, international airport, and many healthcare providers.
“I was having more and more problems paying the mortgage,” says Diana, 69.
This summer they endured more than 60 ‘miserable’ days of 30 degree Celsius temperatures in a motorhome while their house was being refurbished.
“You really can’t go out and do things. We haven’t been as social as I’d like,” Diana told the New York Times.
“A few days ago it was 92 degrees here, the cats were on the floor under the ceiling fan.
“If we could afford it, I’d go back to the California coast.
“I’d rather be able to open the windows.”
Jean Swain Horton, 67, moved from Sacramento, California, to Frisco, Texas, two years ago to be near her son and grandson Theo.
Jean Swain Horton moved to be with her grandson
Now she stays mostly indoors for five months a year, living in an apartment with curtains drawn to block the sun.
“I would go anywhere to be near my grandson,” she said.
The number of power failures affecting more than 50,000 residents has more than doubled in six years. Loss of electricity can lead to increased exposure to the elements for the elderly and possible loss of electrical medical devices.
Seniors are vulnerable to temperature extremes because they have more problems with thermoregulation, the body’s ability to maintain temperature, and the problem is particularly acute for those with chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes.
“Older bodies are less efficient at pumping blood to the skin and less efficient at sweating,” says Dr. Neelu Tummala of George Washington University’s Climate Health Institute.
“That makes it harder for the heart to pump.”
Heat-related deaths rose 25 percent last year to 425 in Pheonix, two-thirds among those over 50.
This summer, more than 110 million people received heat advice at one point. But the dangers haven’t deterred the wave of seniors looking to spend their sunset years in the sunny states.
More than 600,000 seniors move to the state each year, with the highest number moving to Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.
Diana and Charles Cox say they would return to California if they could
A digital thermometer stationed in Death Valley on July 15 revealed temperatures reaching a whopping 129 degrees Celsius — five degrees less than the hottest temperature ever recorded in recorded history.
California’s aptly named Death Valley came close to recording the hottest temperature on record
Ector County resident Jose Hernandez resorted to a fire hydrant opened this summer to ease pressure on the Texas system
“The places that are warm now are exactly the places that are getting older,” says Boston University sociologist Deborah Carr.
“The places that are older — the Midwest, the Northeast, New England — are experiencing a very rapid increase in heat exposure, and we’re less prepared for it.
“Older adults want to move to places where the cost of living and housing is lower, and they may be prioritizing their families over the possibility of heat waves.”
As warm weather puts stress on the power grid from increased energy use, the issue came to the forefront of the news in 2021 as the elderly in Texas suffered extended blackouts.
More than 700 people died when the historic Texas winter storm in February 2021 knocked out power to 3.5 million people for an average of 42 hours.
Winter storm Uri brought historic low temperatures to Texas and left two-thirds of the state’s residents without power for days
Temperatures dropped below zero in some parts of the state. Studies show that the cold combined with power cuts can lead to more cases of heart failure in people with pre-existing conditions
Neighbors push a car off a snowy driveway in Austin on Feb. 15. Winter storm Uri caused an estimated 702 deaths — nearly five times the official figure, an analysis shows
Many of those who died suffered fatal health problems due to the frigid weather, while others weakened to death after vital medical equipment failed during power outages that lasted for days for many Texans.
One, an 89-year-old woman, was initially believed to have died of heart failure, but after it was discovered that the oxygen machine she needed to breathe had been offline for 18 hours, her death was reclassified as a result of the storm.
In another case, a 68-year-old woman collapsed in her home, but even after the EMTs restarted her heart, she was hospitalized with a body temperature suggestive of hypothermia.
The event highlighted the dependence of millions of people on a reliable power supply for critical life-saving equipment.