Recovery Migration after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Spatial Concentration and Intensification in the Migration System

Curtis, Katherine, Elizabeth Fussell and Jack DeWaard
Working paper no. 2014-08


Changes in the human migration systems of Hurricane Katrina- and Rita-affected Gulf of Mexico coastline counties provide an example of how climate change may affect coastal populations. Crude climate change models predict a mass migration of “climate refugees,” but an emerging literature on environmental migration suggests most migration will be short-distance and short-duration within existing migration systems, with implications for the population recovery of disaster-struck places. In this research, we derive a series of hypotheses on recovery migration predicting how the migration system of hurricane-affected coastline counties in the Gulf of Mexico was likely to have changed between the pre-disaster and the recovery periods. We test these hypotheses using data from the Internal Revenue Service on annual county-level migration flows, comparing the recovery period migration system (2007-2009) to the pre-disaster period (1999-2004). By observing county-to-county ties and flows we find that recovery migration was strong, as the migration system of the disaster-affected coastline counties became more spatially concentrated while flows within it intensified and became more urbanized. Our analysis demonstrates how migration systems are likely to be affected by the more intense and frequent storms anticipated by climate change scenarios with implications for the population recovery of disaster-affected places.