Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Yesterday at the 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, researchers presented evidence from two separate studies that human-induced climate change increased the amount and intensity of Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented rainfall.

Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on 25 August and dumped over 1,000mm (40 in) of rain in affected areas, with peak accumulations of 1,539mm (>60 in). It was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States and caused catastrophic flooding that displaced over 30,000 people.

Now, two studies attribute the record-shattering rainfall of the hurricane to climate change. One study, which has been accepted for publication in the a GAU journal, finds Harvey’s rainfall total potentially increased by at least 19% and up to 38% compared to totals in the mid-20th century. Another study, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, finds the record rainfall over Houston was made three times more likely and 15% more intense than similar storms in the early 1900s.

Researcher Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, a co-author of one of the studies, said “It is not news that climate change affects extreme precipitation, but our results indicate that the amount is larger than expected.”

The research confirms that heavy rainfall events across the Gulf of Mexico are increasing due to climate change. As warmer air carries more moisture and warming ocean surface temperatures intensify hurricanes, the region will have to ramp up its adaptation efforts in order to protect itself.


Cover photo by U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez (public domain): Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017.

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