Activity 1: Living on the Edge


According to the U.S. 2000 Census, Florida was the seventh fastest-growing state in the United States, with the population of 17 of its 67 counties more than doubling between 1980 and 2000. Many new residents are retirees who have moved to Florida to take advantage of the state's mild climate and favorable tax structure. Others are Caribbean immigrants seeking economic opportunities. All have one thing in common—they have made a choice that puts them at potential risk from dangerous tropical storms that regularly strike the state.

Part One: Is Population Change Occuring at the Same Rate Throughout Florida?

Materials Needed

  • Reading: "Geographical Mobility: 1995 to 2000" (Census 2000 Brief)
  • Handout 1. "Percent Change of Population in Florida Counties" (PDF: 29KB)
  • Handout 2. "Population Density and Median Household Income in Florida Counties" (PDF: 36KB)
  • Handout 3. "Domestic and International Migration into Florida Counties" (PDF: 29KB)
  • Atlas with detailed maps of the United States


  1. Have students read: "Geographical Mobility: 1995 to 2000."
  2. Next, have students examine the maps in Handout 1.
    • When did Florida experience the greatest population increase?
    • In each time period, generally describe the distribution of counties that saw an increase of 100% or greater.
    1. Have students compare Handouts 1 and 2 with maps of Florida in an atlas to look for general trends.
      • What do the counties with a population density greater than 325 have in common?
      • Speculate on factors that might attract people to the counties of greatest growth and population density.
      • Even though 17 counties at least doubled their populations between 1980 and 2000, what might account for the slower growth in that time period?
      1. Next have students examine the maps in Handout 3. Explain that these maps, based on data from Census 2000, show what percent of each county's population, age 5 years or older, lived in a different state five years earlier (in 1995), and those who lived in a different country five years earlier. Point out that in the United States overall, only about 8% of the population, age 5 years or older, changed state of residence between 1995 and 2000.
        • What pattern of domestic (from another state within the United States) migration can be observed in the first map?
        • What locational characteristics are shared by the counties with a percent of new arrivals above the national average?
        • Compare the pattern of domestic migration with that of international migration shown in the second map. What might account for the differences? What push and pull factors are at work for each group?
        • What urban center is the focus of most international migration to Florida?

        Part Two: What Natural Hazards Affect Areas of Population Growth in Florida?

        Materials Needed


        1. Have students read: "In Harms Way "(PRB) and "The United States Hurricane Problem" (NOAA).
        2. Direct students to the Unisys Weather website at Show students the map of tropical storm tracks in 2004.
          • Lead a discussion of the 2004 storm tracks relative to areas of population growth in Florida.
          1. Distribute Handout 4 and colored pencils.
            • Have students evaluate historical storm tracks for tropical storms and hurricanes for five randomly selected years at
            • Using a different color for each year selected, sketch the tracks of tropical storms for each year selected.
            • What areas of Florida are most at risk? ...What populations? Explain how short–term responses and long-term needs might differ according to the affected population.
            1. Have students examine the table and graph in Handout 5. Point out that in this case changing population density is a good indicator of where population growth in Florida occurred from 1920 to 1990.
              • Discuss the patterns reflected in the table and graph.
              • How does this data relate to the maps considered above?
              • What does this suggest about risk of loss of life and property in Florida?
              1. Direct students to the website of the National Hurricane Center at
                • In the left sidebar, scroll down to "Hurricane History."
                • Open the link to "Deadliest" storms 1900-2000.
                • Scroll down to Part 3: Discussion. Survey the tables and identify the deadliest and most costly storms affecting the U.S. during the past century. Why are some storms deadlier or costlier than others?
                1. Now have students evaluate the graphs and text in Handout 6 "Danger from Hurricanes."
                  • Why did property loss associated with tropical storms increase so dramatically during the 20 th century?
                  • In contrast, why did loss of life decline?

                  Part Three: Why Do People Live in Places That Are Subject to Natural Hazards?

                  Materials Needed

                  • See materials listed in Part Two


                  1. Lead a class discussion of the patterns observed in the maps, graphs, and data examined in this activity.
                    • What general trends were observed (demographic, economic, climatic)?
                    • Why do people choose to migrate to a place at risk of natural hazards?
                    • Divide the class into two groups to debate the following question:
                      • Given the risk of future tropical storms and the increasing costs associated with property loss and rebuilding along Florida's coastlines, should private and government insurance programs continue to cover such losses? Should people be allowed to rebuild in areas of high risk?

                    Extension #1

                    Today, more than 3 billion people—over half of the world's population—live along a coastline or within 125 miles of one. Have the class read about and discuss the impact of high concentrations of people in coastal regions, the appeal of living in these areas, and the ecosystems or natural habitats that help mitigate the impact of natural hazards.

                    Materials Needed

                    • Ripple Effects: Population and Coastal Regions (PDF: 263KB)

                    Discussion Questions

                    1. Why do you think people are increasingly living in coastal areas?
                    2. The world's coasts are becoming increasingly urban. What are some impacts of increasing urbanization along these coasts?
                    3. How do coastline development, tourism, and reef destruction play a role in mitigating or exacerbating the impacts of natural hazards?
                    4. Name three types of natural habitats that play a role in mitigating the impact of hurricanes and tidal waves.

                    Extension #2

                    Have the class research other areas in the United States where large populations are at risk of natural hazards, such as California and the risk of earthquakes, the Mississippi River Basin and the risk of flooding, some natural hazard in the local area.