Hurricane Harvey is the latest natural disaster to have a huge impact on planet Earth. With the storm related death toll currently at 47 (04/09/17) and with thousands of people evacuated from their homes in Houston, its impact is already proving devastating.
A hurricane, also known as a tropical storm, is a rotating low-pressure weather system creating strong winds. Although these storms are naturally occurring hazards, they are exacerbated by the effects of climate change – so why aren’t more questions being asked about the human contribution to Hurricane Harvey?
In 2016, Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States; a President that believes that human impact on the global warming phenomenon is minor and completely exaggerated by scientists. The links are all clear and obvious, but the US Government are yet to address it as an importance, despite 2016 being the hottest year on record, filled with a series of climate related disasters (The Guardian).
So how has climate change impacted Harvey?
Tropical storms and hurricanes are part of Earth’s natural climate processes, but rising ocean temperatures are helping to fuel more powerful storms, like Harvey. Warmer seas means water evaporates quicker than it would at a cooler temperature. As temperatures rise around the world, the warmer air stores more moisture and thus provides a heavier and more intense rainfall.
Hurricane Harvey has surpassed the previous US record for rainfall from a tropical system; 49.2 inches was recorded in Houston on the morning of Tuesday 29th of August. This meant that the US National Weather Service had to introduce a new category on their graphs to record the volume of the precipitation. Without climate change, the ocean temperatures would not be rising at the rate they currently are, meaning that the rainfall amount is very likely to have been lower.
Additionally, elevated sea levels increase the risk of dangerously high storm surges in coastal cities causing inland flooding and destruction to infrastructure, society and economies.
Climate change sceptics are out in force, stating many tropical storms have hit Texas prior to global warming of the atmosphere. This said, climate change will have enhanced the strength of the storm through warmer sea temperatures and higher sea levels. It is important to distinguish between the cause of the disaster and its characteristics.
Climate change itself does not cause natural disasters, however, these tropical storms are becoming more frequent and more powerful, therefore more damaging, due to the effects of global warming. Hurricane Irma (sharing its name with one of our consultants here at ProTech) is on its way to the Caribbean and is already rated a Category 5 storm (06/09/17), with the east coast of America possibly in its path. This comes just 1 week after Hurricane Harvey. The evidence of climate change’s impact on natural disasters is apparent, but still seemingly overlooked.
Whilst the official damage cost of Hurricane Harvey is yet to be known, it is estimated to cost up to $190bn which would make it the priciest natural disaster in U.S. history (USA Today).
Considering that very expensive fact, will the US Government finally switch their views and start getting serious about human-induced climate change and the impacts it has on Earth’s natural disasters?
Sources: LiveScience, The Guardian, NY Times, Wired, NOAA, USA Today, BBC, CNN