How Did Climate Change Affect Hurricane Harvey? Its Role Can't Be Denied

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Thousands of people lost their homes, and more than 40 people died during the storm.

Something akin to similar realistic planning will need to come into play in other flood-prone metropolitan areas, in terms of urban sprawl and protecting wetlands.

Keep in mind: None of the experts we talked to said climate change caused Hurricane Harvey.

We can't undo Harvey, but we can work together to lessen the likelihood that we have to suffer through anything like it for at least another 500 years.

The staying power of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes quick, significant changes in the greenhouse warming all but impossible for the foreseeable future.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said earlier this week that it is "opportunistic" and "misplaced" for reporters to tie Hurricane Harvey to climate change.

"There is universal agreement" that global warming will boost rainfall during hurricanes because warmer air holds more moisture, increasing the risk of severe floods, said Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even after it made landfall and weakened to a tropical storm, Harvey dumped even more rain on the region.

"We find that, after adjusting for such an estimated number of missing storms, there is a small nominally positive upward trend in tropical storm occurrence from 1878-2006".

He added: "So, I think for opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause and effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced". So the question is: Can America's economy continue to lead without sacrificing our coastal cities to record-breaking hurricanes every couple of years? While influenced by natural variability, that alone can not account for the magnitude and rates of change that we have experienced.

What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane Harvey?

As The New York Times reported last week, the Gulf of Mexico's daily surface sea temperature never dropped below 73 last winter, a first since measurements have been taken. This also compounded the situation, slowing the drainage of flood waters and making the storm surge higher.

Another key factor that makes hurricanes unsafe is storm surge, the huge flood of seawater a storm pushes in front of it as it approaches land.

The analogy gets to the "fat tail" aspect of extreme events.

Cities can do a variety of things. More ambitious regional solutions may also be possible in some cases.

So much rain has fallen in the Houston area that the National Weather Service has had to revamp its charts. That events like Harvey will be more common or made more powerful. Waiting too long is also risky, as distance from an event drains our interest in a topic and could render later discussions as dated, irrelevant - or perhaps more importantly - not newsworthy.

This event has not only brought unity for once to our media, it has also brought out the best in our communities - heroes from the National Guard to our courageous emergency responders.

It's not yet clear whether climate change caused or impacted the severity of the storm. "Although these storms occur naturally, the storm is apt to be more intense, maybe a bit bigger, longer-lasting, and with much heavier rainfalls (because of that ocean heat)". It requires leaders who accept the overwhelming science on climate change, realize the exposure for Texas, and craft state policies and support federal actions to lessen the dangers. I would encourage people not to forget about the potential for risky heat events during the summer months, however.

There is obviously lots of concern and visibility around flooding, storm surge, and the effects that big storms will have on Boston and its surroundings.