Wait: Are People Getting Smarter about Where They Live?!

I was in the Los Angeles Airport this weekend when I caught the best headline I have seen in a while: “Hurricane High-Risk Areas Have Lost Residents.” My wheeling suitcase came to a screeching halt.

According to USA Today’s analysis (complete with rad roll-over map), the number of people who live in the most vulnerable areas of Florida, Texas, and the rest of the Gulf Coast has fallen slightly since 2000.

The steepest decline is in the places smashed flat by Hurricane Katrina, naturally. But even excluding those spots, these high-risk zones grew only about 6%—or about half the rate of safer places inland, the newspaper found.

What’s up? Can it possibly be that Americans are judging risk more accurately, after the beating we’ve taken in the current hurricane cycle?

No, Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, tells USA Today. Those people are just responding to the housing crunch. But I’m not so sure. Call me crazy, but I think a handful of people in these areas might be getting tired of the annual rites that come with living in hurricane alley: sitting in evacuation traffic for hours with children and dogs, spending days at a time at friends’ houses, trying to be the perfect guest despite the total lack of privacy and snack food, and coming home to pick up the pieces.

The real test will come when the housing market recovers. Then we’ll see if an oceanfront condo is worth the suffering.

GeneralAmanda Ripley