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

Katherine J. Curtis, Elizabeth Fussell, Jack DeWaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Changes in the human migration systems of the Gulf of Mexico coastline counties affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 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 that most migration will be short-distance and short-duration within existing migration systems, with implications for the population recovery of disaster-stricken 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) with the pre-disaster period (1999–2004). By observing county-to-county ties and flows, we find that recovery migration was strong: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1269-1293
Number of pages25
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 12 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by center Grant #R24 HD047873 and training Grant #T32HD07014 awarded to the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, center Grant #R24 HD041023 awarded to the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and by funds to Curtis from the Wisconsin Agricultural Experimental Station and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. We thank Lori Hunter and Patricia Romero-Lankao for organizing the CUPC-NCAR Workshop on Migration, Urbanization, and Climate Change held May 7–8, 2012, in Boulder, Colorado, where Curtis and Fussell began this project; the Department of Global Health Systems and Development at the Tulane University School of Public Health, where Fussell was hosted from 2012 to 2013; Lori Hunter and the University of Colorado Population Center for organizing the summer short course, Environmental Demography, that DeWaard attended on June 13–14, 2013; Lori Hunter and the anonymous reviewers at Demography for their insightful feedback; and William R. Buckingham at the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for his cartographic expertise.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Population Association of America.


  • Disasters
  • Environment
  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
  • Migration system
  • Recovery migration


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