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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Bad winter up north could mean we get more crowded

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2014 at 10:42 AM

I admit it is fun torturing my Northern friends with random Facebook pictures and ramblings about how mild our winter has been.

While those poor folks have endured sliding cars, icy roads and sidewalks, snowbanks, freezing rain, sub-zero weather and all the other things that make winter such a festive season north of the Mason-Dixon line, we had a couple of days when we needed a sweater.

Maybe I shouldn’t have piled it on so thick, though.

At least that’s the conclusion I reached after I asked Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization director Ray Chiaramonte if this awful winter could lead to a stampede of new residents here, fleeing the cold, frozen north.

You might not like his answer.

“I honestly do think this could have an effect here in the short term,” he said.

We know growth was coming anyway. By next year, it was already said Florida could pass New York as the third most-populous state — and that was before the icy fangs of this gosh-awful winter tore into the East and Midwest.

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“If people were already planning to move here, a horrible winter could be the event that makes them say ‘enough,’” Chiaramonte said. “I don’t think it necessarily changes the long-range growth forecast because the people moving are probably some of the same people who were coming anyway. But you also could have people decide they can’t take it any more.”

He knows how that works. During a visit here from Chicago in 1970, Chiaramonte noted people wear shorts in the winter and don’t shovel snow.

He decided he needed some sand in his shoes, and moved here a year later.

Weather jokes aside, though, a short-term spike in population here could put added strain on roads and other services. Houses are sprouting like mushrooms in east and south Hillsborough County now, and an influx of northern refugees could lead to more building.

Weather isn’t the only factor driving growth, of course.

The improving economy here will likely attract more folks looking for work, and Tampa’s new emphasis on building its tech industry could also have an effect.

Let’s put it this way, though.

The longer snow, ice and single-digit temperatures linger in the northern forecasts, the more fed up some people will probably get. I can speak from personal experience on this.

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I was living in Ohio in 1974 and it seemed like the winter would never end. We had icy roads. We had a dark, soot-colored sky that never seemed to go away. It was always cold. When the snow finally melted, we had a flood. We endured what natives called “The Day of the Tornadoes,” a devastating outburst of storms all over southwest Ohio, including an F5 that leveled the town of Xenia.

It seemed like a good time to leave. That memory prompted the phone call to Chiaramonte to test a theory about a growth spurt that could be coming our way. I told him up front it was probably cockamamie.

But then he said, “I don’t think it’s cockamamie at all. It could happen.”

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