NAPLES — The migration of seasonal residents is under way, and there’s reason to believe the mild northern winter has enticed people to leave Southwest Florida earlier than planned this year.
Some say that’s been the case, but others aren’t so sure.
Across the northern United States, stretching from South Dakota to Illinois to New Jersey, the 2011-12 winter was one of the warmest ever recorded. Not only were high temperature records broken, they were obliterated.
According to the National Weather Service, Kansas City experienced its warmest March on record. The same was true in Minnesota for the Twin Cities, and for New Jersey. In Chicago, warm temperature records were broken or tied on 10 consecutive days last month.
“All the cold air was kept bottled up in Canada,” said Jim Keeney, program manager for the National Weather Service. “Across a good portion of the Great Plains and Midwest, the winter has been above normal with record low snowfall.”
So with folks up North trading in parkas for T-shirts, some locals are wondering whether the warm weather up there is affecting Southwest Florida. The answer depends on who you ask.
“I’ve been a resident of Naples for 18 years,” said Monica Borrok, an agent at Royal Shell Real Estate, with offices in Collier and Lee counties. “When I moved here, you could wake up on April 1 and say ‘Wow, where did they all go and how did they leave overnight without me knowing?’ Now, we have many more people who book into April than ever before.”
According to local home watch services, as well as RV parks and resorts, the record warm winter in the North had little effect on their businesses.
“Year to year, most of our clients leave the last two or three weeks in April, and it hasn’t been any different this year,” said Diane Eager, owner of Cottage to Castle, a Naples home watch services company. “In fact, one of the services we provide is an airport drop-off or pick-up, and during those last few weeks in April we are going to be very busy.”
Naples RV park resorts such as Neapolitan Cove and Harmony Shores reported that “a few” northerners left early, but that overall, business was up.
“Some of our people have left earlier than usual, but not very many,” said Wanda Dearth, manager of Neapolitan Cove RV Resort. “I think our occupancy is still even higher than last year. We were booked up the entire time.”
However, other local businesses are seeing an early exodus of seasonal residents.
Amy Richard has been a rental agent for Royal Shell for five years and said she has never seen the end of March and the beginning of April so slow.
“I’m a rental agent for short-term rentals on Fifth Avenue and this is the deadest Easter week I’ve ever seen,” Richard said. “It’s always after Easter that people leave. Maybe everyone is at the beach because it is so beautiful.”
Jorge Velasquez, director of circulation sales at the Daily News, said more customers than usual put an early stop to paper deliveries this spring.
“At the end of March we experienced more of a decline than we normally have year by year,” Velasquez said. “The combination of the early Easter and the warmer weather up North has people going back sooner than they did last year. Easter was on April 24 last year, so we had the benefit of having them here as far as circulation was concerned.”
Kevin Weiland bought a vacation home in Fort Myers to escape the long, cold, northern winters. Last week, the high was 85 degrees in Rapid City, S.D., where Weiland has a home. It was the warmest and driest March there since 1942.
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But even with the summer-like conditions in South Dakota, Weiland said he would rather be in Florida watching spring training baseball. This year, though, he stayed in South Dakota for the warm spring after coming south earlier in the winter.
“The weather up here, awesome. The weather down there, awesome. But I’ll take Florida any day,” Weiland said. “We don’t have a beach up here. It’s brown here, and it is always green down there.”
Weiland isn’t the only one who feels that way.
Bill Kleine, who lives part of the year in northwest Illinois, has been coming to Southwest Florida every year for 14 years. He said he didn’t even consider going back to Illinois early.
“This winter was a complete fluke,” said Kleine, staying at the Bonita Lake RV Resort. “It’s been warmer than usual up there and down here, but it won’t happen in the North again anytime soon. It definitely wasn’t a reason to change any plans.”
Lisa Smith has had a winter home at Bonita Lake RV Resort for 12 years, and a summer home in Ohio. Not only does she not want to leave Florida early this year, she doesn’t want to leave at all.
“I would stay through the summer if it were only my decision, but my husband wants to go back,” Smith said. “For me, there’s no better place to live than Florida. I don’t care how warm it is up there.”