Scientists confirm Hurricane Harvey made worse by global warming

A new study has found that climate change made Hurricane Harvey three times as likely to happen and escalated its rainfall by 15 percent.

Hurricane Harvey devastated regions of Southeast Texas earlier this year, killing 82 people and causing nearly $200 billion in damage. A new study has found that climate change made the catastrophic storm three times as likely to happen and escalated Harvey’s rainfall by 15 percent.

A growing collection of research has linked global warming to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, drought, and wildfires.

Experts at the World Weather Attribution (WWA) explain that while manmade climate change was not the direct cause of Hurricane Harvey, global warming tripled the odds that the hurricane would hit Houston and surrounding areas with such intensity.

To examine how climate change may have affected the strength of the hurricane, the WWA researchers used climate models and historical rainfall records. Dr. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute is the study’s lead author.

“This multi-method analysis confirms that heavy rainfall events are increasing substantially across the Gulf Coast region because of human interference with our climate system,” explained Dr. Oldenborgh. “It was very a rare event – they were very unlucky.”

Hurricane Harvey lingered over Southeastern Texas for days, dumping over 40 inches of rain in just four days. The findings of the study suggest that global warming increased these rainfall totals by 15 percent.

Researchers at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) conducted their own investigation into “how human-caused climate change may have affected the strength and likelihood of individual extreme events.

They examined over 20 weather disasters that occurred in 2016, including record heat in the Arctic and a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska.

The AMS researchers concluded that the majority of these catastrophic weather events can be at least partially blamed on climate change. The scientists find, for the first time in their series of studies, that some of these extreme weather events were simply not possible in a pre-industrial climate.

Jeff Rosenfeld is the editor-in-chief of a special report from the AMS, entitled “Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective.”

“This report marks a fundamental change,” said Rosenfeld. “For years scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes. But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer