Climate Change Made Hurricane Harvey’s Devastation Worse

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The findings of new research that was just published today suggest that up to half of the homes in Harris County, which includes Houston, would not have been inundated by Hurricane Harvey in the year 2013 if it weren’t for the effects of climate change. The publication of the study in Nature Communications, which corresponds with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that came ashore in Texas and Louisiana in 2017, and caused significant flooding in Houston, comes at the same time as the anniversary.

It is estimated that 50,000 fewer homes will be damaged as a result of the reduction of residential impacts by fifty percent, which will save billions of dollars in residential damage costs.

 Using detailed land-parcel and census tract socio-economic data, we then describe the socio-spatial characteristics associated with these climate change-induced impacts. We show that 30 to 50% of the flooded properties would not have flooded without climate change. Climate change-attributed impacts were particularly felt in Latina/x/o neighborhoods, and especially so in Latina/x/o neighborhoods that were low-income and among those located outside of FEMA’s 100-year floodplain.

The study, which is the first of its kind to investigate potential inequities between people afflicted by the flooding caused by climate change, discovers patterns of racial and economic inequality.

The process of running computational models in order to estimate the degree to which climate-related changes make weather extremes, such as hurricanes, more severe is one of the steps involved in determining the correlation between climatic changes weather events, which is known as attribution of climate change. The scientists can examine the discrepancy between these estimates made without the influence of climate change and the actual events that took place.

In spite of the fact that most conversations about climate change focus on projections for the future, this study highlights the evidence that climate change is already having an effect on life as it is currently experienced.

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