News & Insights

Babcock Ranch & Storm Resilience: How an Innovative Community Survived a Category 4 Hurricane

Babcock Ranch sunset view

On the evening of September 27, 2022, Hurricane Ian barreled toward the Fort Myers area in Florida. A massive Category 4 hurricane, Ian prompted emergency evacuation orders ahead of the approaching winds, rain, and storm surge—but due in part to late changes in the forecast path, many didn’t have time to evacuate.

Amy Wicks, an experienced surface water engineer with Kimley-Horn, was one Florida resident who did not evacuate. Instead, she and her family chose to wait out the storm at their home in Babcock Ranch—a community that Amy and her team at Kimley-Horn spent years cultivating for a time like this. However, the severity of the storm made Amy question if the design of the community and its flood-resistant systems was a match for reality as she and her family huddled in their closet watching the news while Ian slammed into Florida.

“Everything that was happening was outside any of the parameters that we had designed to. It was so bad, and I wondered what we were going to see in the morning.”

— Amy Wicks, Kimley-Horn Project Manager

Designed for Resilience

Slightly northeast of Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch is an 18,000-acre community that was built for sustainability and storm resistance. Inspired by natural designs and environmental preservation, Babcock Ranch has a unique surface water system that utilizes rain gardens, on-site water treatment, and created wetlands to manage rainfall and protect against flooding. The community, which is projected to eventually house more than 50,000 residents, is also powered by two solar fields that produce more than enough energy for local daytime activities with what will continue to be a surplus even at project completion.

The morning after Hurricane Ian tore through the area, Amy and her family walked out expecting Babcock Ranch to mirror the same scenes of disaster they had been watching on the news. Instead, there was no standing water in the community’s streets even though the storm had dumped 10 inches of rain in the area. Additionally, no one in the community lost power, and the area did not experience major structural and landscape damage. The Babcock Ranch community did exactly what it was designed to do: protect life, manage rainfall, and fortify against flooding.

Since the storm, Amy has been helping others in the area recover, distributing food and supplies for coworkers out of her home and facilitating communication to help local partners who suffered immense losses. Babcock Ranch’s ability to withstand Hurricane Ian has strengthened Amy and her Kimley-Horn team’s belief in the resilience of their design, and it has also encouraged them to continue developing the area to withstand future challenges.

Babock Ranch Solar Fields

To learn more about Babcock Ranch and Kimley-Horn’s work on this growing and sustainable Southwest  Florida community, check out our project page on Babcock Ranch or the PBS NewsHour documentary about its resilient design.

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