FARGO — COVID-19 is disrupting many annual traditions and the early winter migration of some Fargo-Moorhead area residents to warmer climates is no exception.

Traditionally, the holiday season is the time of year many "snowbirds" head south for states like Texas, Florida and Arizona, but this year many are still on the fence about whether or not they will make the trip.

That's according to Gene LaDoucer, a spokesman for AAA North Dakota.

LaDoucer said many snowbirds turn to AAA for help planning their routes to southern states, but this fall the agency has seen a sizable decrease in the number of people seeking that service.

"What a lot of the people who are looking to travel are doing is they're taking a wait-and-see approach to travel to see if there is an opportunity for them to travel safely and comfortably," LaDoucer said.

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Also, he said, in the past people might have approached AAA one or two months in advance of a trip south.

Now, he said, if people do ask for help in planning a trip they do it much closer to the time they actually hit the road.

It's the same with leisure travel in general, according to LaDoucer.

"People are making those decisions much more close to the date that they're going to travel than they have historically; again, taking that wait-and-see approach," LaDoucer said, adding that pandemic concerns are likely the main reason.

"Snowbirds tend to be in that high-risk population, that group that thinks twice before venturing out right now," he said.

LaDoucer's sentiments were echoed by Joyce Anderson, communication and publicity chairwoman for the Dakotas Snowbird Club, a group comprised largely of individuals from North Dakota and South Dakota who have traditionally spent several months a year living in the lower Alabama region in communities like Gulf Shores and Mobile.

Anderson recently sent emails to club members to find out how many planned to travel south this winter.

She said of the 40 or so responses she had received, about a third indicated they would be traveling to the Alabama area this winter, while the others said they were either staying home this year, or traveling to a different state, like Texas or Utah.

Anderson said one reason some were staying away from Alabama was because of damage caused by recent storms, but for others the pandemic was clearly a major factor.

"Some of them are in their 70s and 80s and they just feel it's too risky with COVID," said Anderson, who spends much of the year in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Dakotas Snowbird Club includes individuals from North Dakota and South Dakota who have traditionally spent several months out of the year in Alabama. This year, hurricanes and the threat from COVID-19 have led many members of the club to decide they will stay home this winter. The image shows members of the club getting together during a past winter. Special to The Forum.
The Dakotas Snowbird Club includes individuals from North Dakota and South Dakota who have traditionally spent several months out of the year in Alabama. This year, hurricanes and the threat from COVID-19 have led many members of the club to decide they will stay home this winter. The image shows members of the club getting together during a past winter. Special to The Forum.

Anderson said she will be among those who stay home this winter, in part because she is a caregiver to her 98-year-old mother, but also because she is concerned about COVID-19.

A widow, Anderson said she isn't keen on traveling so far on her own this year.

"I don't really want to be there by myself in the event I do get sick," she said.

Cindy Tyo, co-owner of Travel Travel Group, said many area snowbirds her agency caters to have flown or intend to fly south for the winter. A smaller group has indicated they were going to stay home this year, according to Tyo.

"Some are staying home, but not many in that category," Tyo said.