Skip to Content
Uncategorized

How Much Is Climate Change to Blame for Tropical Storm Harvey?

August 28, 2017

Scientists are already starting to weigh in on how humans may have helped exacerbate the weekend’s catastrophic flooding in Texas. The consensus so far: we can’t say climate change caused Harvey, but it certainly made it worse than it could have been.

Writing for the Guardian, Michael E. Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, points out that sea levels have risen by over six inches around Houston during the last few decades as a result of human action. That means that the water surge forced inland by the storm was six inches taller than it would have been in the past.

But, as Hal Needham, from research firm Marine Weather and Climate in Galveston, Texas, says to the New York Times: “A two- or three-foot storm surge alone would not have been catastrophic.” Indeed, it’s the quantity of rain on top of the surge that appears to have made it such a disaster. The storm has already deposited at least 20 inches of rain, and some estimates suggest that the figure could climb to 50 inches in some areas.

That, too, is likely to have been exacerbated by humans. Mann points out that average temperatures in the area where Harvey developed were over 1 °C higher than they would have been several decades ago. The elevated temperatures will have caused between 3 and 5 percent more moisture to evaporate into the atmosphere than would have been the case in the past, meaning that there was more water to fall as rain when the storm hit.

Kevin Trenberth, from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, agrees. He tells the Atlantic that “the human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm.”

Mann also speculates that the way Harvey has hung over Houston, offering no respite, could also be our fault. He points to his own research, which suggests that stationary weather anomalies appear to be linked to human-caused global warming.

So, how much blame can we lay at our own feet for Harvey? By no means all: it’s a natural disaster, the result of a series of complex systems that happened to act together in a deeply undesirable way. But we definitely made things worse.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Embracing CX in the metaverse

More than just meeting customers where they are, the metaverse offers opportunities to transform customer experience.

Identity protection is key to metaverse innovation

As immersive experiences in the metaverse become more sophisticated, so does the threat landscape.

The modern enterprise imaging and data value chain

For both patients and providers, intelligent, interoperable, and open workflow solutions will make all the difference.

Scientists have created synthetic mouse embryos with developed brains

The stem-cell-derived embryos could shed new light on the earliest stages of human pregnancy.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.