Scientists and meteorologists alike know that Hurricane Harvey is occurring during one of the most hurricane-friendly regions of the world at the very peak of hurricane season. But reasons for the force of this hurricane have now included climate change and global warming into the equation. Climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey, but it very probably is making it worse.
Now, in the wake of this mega hurricane, numerous opinions abound on the role climate change played in the storm’s massive force and devastation. Many facts can’t be denied. The sea level has risen about 6 inches in the past two decades, which increases the chance and severity of flooding. In an article by German Lopez for Vox.com, he quotes renowned climatologist Michael E. Mann who prefaced his explanation by saying it was “unclear if global warming will lead to more storms like Harvey.” What was clear to him was that rising sea levels in the Houston area in the last few decades made the region more and more prone to dangerous flooding. Adding to that is the rising water temperature of more than a degree both on and below the surface, and spiking land temperatures from 1°C (34.7 farenheit) to 1.5°C (33.8 farenheit), both trends have put 3 to 5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere. More moisture in the air means more rain. The result has been unprecedented catastrophic rainfall and flooding.
A recent article in the Atlantic says the “sea-surface waters near Texas rose to between 2.7 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average” and were some of the hottest spots of ocean surface in the world, making Harvey feed “off this unusual warmth…and was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in roughly 48 hours.” Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, was quoted in the Atlantic saying, “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so up to the total rainfall coming out of the storm. … It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway — but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”
In a series on Houston’s flood risk on propublica.org, reporters not only looked at how climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston, but how growing development and urban sprawl in this loosely zoned city is creating greater flood risks. Houston’s unchecked growth has seen builders ignoring strict regulations by paving over natural prairie land that once could absorb huge amounts of rainwater. In a storm like Harvey, this phenomena has overtly played out by turning streets into waterways, overflowing in the bayou network, drainage systems and reservoirs.
As Texas struggles with surviving Harvey, perhaps a resiliency plan will emerge as they prepare for future hurricanes.