Local News

As North freezes in record cold, snowbird migration seems steady

SEBRING - Dawn Engelsman left her summer home of Michigan earlier this winter and intends to stay longer until the snow is gone.

Audrey Lovejoy "ran away" from her Massachusetts home in November and "intends to do that next year, as well."

Michigan and much of the North is facing record low temperatures and snowfalls this year, and one of those in the midst of the deep winter is Engelsman's daughter.

An Ann Arbor, Mich., resident, she has firmly told her mother she does not want to talk about Florida's balmy weather, her mom said with a smile.

While Engelsman left early this year, and intends to do so again next year, Canadians Peter and Kathleen Perrone are staying two months instead of three this winter.

They got here Feb. 1, they said, after celebrating the holidays and a bunch of January birthdays.

The harshest winter months in Canada are from December to March. Come the end of March the Perrones will head back home to enjoy the Canadian summer.

As the North faces one of the most brutal winters this year, some RV parks are not seeing the snowbird numbers go up.

Some are coming earlier; others are staying later, and still others could not make it because of the weather.

"We have the same occupancy as last year," said Whispering Pines manager Sherri Muha.

What Muha and a few others are seeing are more Canadians this year, even though they have been coming in large numbers over the last few years.

Wally Caskenette, who has seen more fellow Canadians in Florida, perfectly understands why: "You get tired of living in the snow," he grinned.

Traveling to the United States is a little bit more complicated for Canadians.

Their visas allow them a six-month stay and they have to get back to their home provinces within a certain time to keep their benefits, such as their provincial health insurance, said Lenore Colosimo.

Since their Canadian health insurance only pays a certain amount, many buy private supplemental health insurance to cover the difference.

It can all get expensive, Colosimo said.

Highlands County Tourism Director John Scherlacher said his office advertises Highlands County in some Canadian markets such as Ontario and Toronto and they have seen a slight increase in inquiries from Canadian residents.

"Especially Ontario - that's a good market for us," he said.

While the TDC office does not track snowbird numbers, there is a rule of thumb for their annual length of stay.

"If the weather is back up North they will stay longer," he said. "If it's spring weather, they will leave early."

If the weather is what decides when snowbirds come to Florida and how long they stay, it's the weather - the hot summer days - that drives them away.

Engelsman has thought about staying here full-time but the summer heat has made her think twice.

Family is another important reason why some snowbirds feel they cannot be full-time residents, although as they get older and the driving gets harder, they move to Florida permanently.

Barbara Wood is one of those.

After being a part-time resident for 25 years she started living full-time in Reflections On Silver Lake four years ago, although she goes back and visits her family.

Others such as Lou Valsecchi, who moved to Florida in December on his first trip to the Sunshine State, take a leap of faith.

Valsecchi is now living out his retirement in his RV.

The reason behind downsizing: His wife does not like to clean anymore, he grinned.

When they left Washington it was 18 degrees. They drove to Florida, looked around and settled on staying at the Lake Glenada RV Park.

Wednesday, Valsecchi was in his golf cart, close to the edge of Lake Glenada, tying a catch some catfish.

Life has been good so far: "I love it," he said.

As for the H word, he's heard about it, and he's made up his mind.

"It's hot, it's hot, I don't care. We'll live through it," he said.