Roanoke Becomes Home To a New Kind of Refugee: Those Fleeing Climate Change

One-third of Americans cited climate change as a reason to move, per a recent survey. Some who do are choosing Roanoke.

Betsy and Gary Nixon outside their Roanoke home on Sunday, June 25, 2023. After evacuating Wilmington, North Carolina in 2018 during Hurricane Florence, the Nixons checked out Asheville, North Carolina, and Charlottesville before settling on Roanoke for their new home. PHOTO BY SCOTT P. YATES FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Suzy Fay grew up with what she called the “Florida mindset” when it came to hurricanes. Stay put, ride it out, clean up and carry on.

That mentality served her well for more than 50 years she spent in the Sunshine State. She and her husband, Bill Lyons, expected to endure anything nature threw their way as they spent their retirement years in St. Augustine along the Atlantic coast.

Then three consecutive Category 5 hurricanes in as many years chased them from their home — Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018. When Irma struck, Fay and Lyons fled first to Huntsville, Alabama, and eventually to Cincinnati. They rode out Matthew at a home they own in North Florida, an area later devastated by Michael.

Three hurricanes in three years were enough to change that Florida mindset.

“I don’t want to be doing this when I am 80,” Lyons, now 74, told his wife after they escaped Irma in 2017.