Florida's Hurricane-Proof Town!

Oct 17, 2023 By Manav Y, Writer Intern
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Florida has quite a history when it comes to hurricanes. From June 1st to November 30th, the Sunshine State deals with tropical hurricanes during these six months every year.

Since 1851, roughly 41% of hurricanes that saw landfall in the U.S. impacted Florida; this equates to 125 out of 308 hurricanes. Moreover, Florida leads in all categories of hurricanes, from one through five. 

These hurricanes have devastated Florida’s infrastructure, population, and economy. Hurricane Andrew, for example, was a category 5 storm in 1991 that resulted in 44 fatalities and cost more than $131 million in damages. Hurricane Irma, in 2017, forced a statewide evacuation that cost more than $50 billion in damages and resulted in 84 fatalities. As such, hurricanes have cost Florida a tremendous amount and are only intensifying.

Fortunately, in a time of desperate need, one town has been emerging as a potential solution: Babcock Ranch, Florida. Let's find out why. 

What Makes Babcock Resilient?

In 2018, Babcock Ranch was created as a housing community in Southwest Florida to withstand powerful storms.

The 18,000-acre housing development’s first true test came on September 28th, 2022, when Hurricane Ian (category 5) made landfall. The force of 100 mph winds devastated everything along its path. However, in Babcock, besides a few knocked-down street signs and palm trees, the community remained unscathed.

The housing development was equipped with a lake that could serve as a "smart" pond to prevent flooding.  When there is excess water from rainfall or flooding, the freshwater in the pond is discharged to the bay, making room for the polluted stormwater. As Hurricane Ian approached Florida’s coast, the smart ponds captured approximately 175,000 ft of stormwater! When there is no rain, the stormwater in the ponds can be treated and filtered using plants and bacteria. 

In addition, the community has streets that absorb excess rainfall, a community hall that serves as a storm shelter, and an 870-acre solar panel farm that generates energy for the entire town. And, as a safety precaution, Babcock also has a natural gas generator that can take the role of the community’s energy supplier.

Babcock’s engineers didn’t focus solely on land development and traditional use, but also on utilities, sustainability, housing strength, and plenty of green spaces including wetlands and wildlife corridors. Combined, these unique characteristics are what made Backock resilient and a viable solution to hurricanes. 

Lessons from Babcock

In 2022, the housing development became the fifth top-selling master-planned community in the country.

Although it is important to be cautious at such an early stage, Babcock’s success has inspired other housing developments across the country. The community has illustrated how careful planning and innovative approaches can allow coastal cities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. 

Sources: NPR, BBC, Harvard, monroecounty-fl.gov