• “Mother nature always bats last, and she always bats 1,000": Rob Watson

    “[T]here’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously” (Eric Holthaus).

  • Don’t blame climate change for the Hurricane Harvey disaster – blame society

    Yes, climate change can and does influence hurricanes. But climate change does not affect people’s vulnerabilities to the hurricane. Neither the climate nor the hurricane’s characteristics made Houston an industrial center of 2.3m people (2017 estimate), an increase of 40 percent since 1990. They did not force Texans to build along the coast or in floodplains without adequate measures, as occurs around the United States. They did not pave over green spaces leading to reduced rainfall absorption. Because vulnerability is not natural, many disaster researchers avoid the phrase “natural disaster.” A hurricane need not become a hurricane disaster – but society let a disaster happen. Blaming climate change, or even just the weather, for the hurricane disaster distracts from individuals’ and society’s responsibility for where we live, how we live and how we support people who cannot help themselves. This vulnerability, not nature and not climate change, causes hurricane disasters.

  • Analysis: Four things Houston-area leaders must do to prevent future flooding disasters

    An unprecedented amount of rain has fallen on the Houston area in the past few days, causing what is likely the worst flooding event that the nation’s sixth-largest metropolitan area has ever experienced — even worse than 2001’s Tropical Storm Allison. This may seem like a freak occurrence. But it is the third catastrophic flooding event this region of 6.5 million people has experienced in three years. And scientists and other experts say that much of the devastation could have been prevented. Here are four steps local leaders could have done to protect the Houston region from Harvey-related flooding — and what they must do to prevent such disasters in the future: Preserve and restore as much prairie land as possible; restrict development in floodplains and buy flood-prone homes; plan for climate change; educate the public.

  • This is already Houston’s "worst flood." It’s only going to get worse.

    As swamped officials struggled to respond to a deadly crisis Sunday, southeast Texans were bracing for their troubles to multiply over the coming week. Harvey is on track to produce even more devastating floods. “The economic impact should be greater than any other flood event we’ve ever experienced,” says one expert. “And it’s going to take years for these residential communities to recover.” Some parts of Texas could receive up to 50 inches of rain in the coming days, an amount that would exceed state records. Two federally-owned reservoirs west of Houston meant to protect the city from catastrophic flooding were already reaching historic levels as of Sunday evening.

  • After Harvey, time to adapt to new climate reality: Experts

    Experts say that two signature effects of climate change likely helped intensify the rainfall associated with Harvey: (1) Warmer sea surface temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico allowed the storm to rapidly intensify, leading to stronger winds, more evaporation and more moisture in the atmosphere; (2) A warmer atmosphere is also able to hold more water vapor, such that when it does rain, more moisture can fall from the sky. “Natural assaults on our infrastructure present us with a ‘pay me now, or pay me later’ situation,” says an infrastructure expert. “Every disaster of this magnitude is a probe that shows us just where our infrastructure is weak.”

  • Is Hurricane Harvey a harbinger for Houston’s future?

    Houston, we have a problem: While it’s hard to pin the blame for Hurricane Harvey directly on climate change, we can say this: human-caused climate change has enhanced some of the impacts of the storm. As the region’s population grows, more and more of southern Texas is being paved with impermeable surfaces. This means that when there is extreme rainfall the water takes longer to drain away, prolonging and intensifying the floods. Hurricane Harvey is likely to end up being one of the most costly disasters in U.S. history. It is also likely that climate change and population growth in the region have worsened the effects of this major storm.

  • Harvey likely to erode, over-wash, inundate 94 percent of Texas beaches

    New projections from the U.S. Geological Survey indicate Hurricane Harvey is likely to cause significant beach erosion along the Texas coastline, with water overtopping dunes and in some cases inundating areas. USGS Coastal Change Forecast model is predicting that 94 percent of Texas’s 367 miles of coastline will undergo some level of beach erosion from the storm surge and large waves Hurricane Harvey produces.

  • Why Houston isn't ready for Hurricane Harvey

    The brunt of Hurricane Harvey is projected to miss Houston, but the sprawling metropolis is likely to face massive flooding from its third crippling storm in the past three years. It underscores a new reality for the nation’s fourth-largest city: Climate change is making such storms more routine. Meanwhile, unchecked development in the Houston area is wiping out the pasture land that once soaked up floodwaters.

  • Post-earthquake losses: Devastating and costly

    Since 1900, 2.3 million people have died in 2,233 earthquakes, yet it is important to understand that 93 percent of the fatalities that occurred as a result of violent earthquakes happened in only 1 percent of key earthquakes. In other words, the worst devastation tends to happen in only a very few quakes and generally as a result of dire secondary effects. A new study recommends we shift our focus to learn from and prepare against the range of disasters that typically follow — and for which we are often unprepared.

  • A new map of seismic hazards in Brazil shows that new building code is required

    Researchers are working on a new national map of seismic hazards for Brazil. The survey under way seeks to help ensure earthquake-resistant construction becomes more widespread. Brazil’s seismic-resistant building standard, in force since 2006, was based on an outdated seismic hazard map, and the scientists conducting the new survey say that the Brazilian building code must be updated in order to prevent low-intensity tremors from causing damage.

  • Climate change shifts timing of floods in Europe

    Researchers have identified a link between climate change and floods. A comprehensive study collected and analyzed fifty years of data from over 4,000 hydrometric stations from thirty-eight European countries, finding that the timing of the floods has shifted across much of Europe, dramatically in some areas.

  • Priorities for property buyouts in Florida’s flood-prone areas

    Flooding is the most common and damaging of all natural disasters in the United States. In 2016, 44 of the 46 major disaster declarations were related to storms, with flooding being a significant factor in almost 70 percent of them (30 events). In 2016, severe floods in the United States resulted in more than $17 billion in damages (six times higher than in 2015). Twelve individual weather and climate events caused more than $1 billion in damages each, and at least five severe 1,000-year precipitation events occurred in the United States in 2016. A new study proposes that government-funded buyouts, followed by structure demolition or relocation and the restoration of floodplain habitats, can support social, environmental, and economic objectives simultaneously.

  • Explaining rapid sea level rise along the East Coast

    Sea level rise hot spots — bursts of accelerated sea rise that last three to five years — happen along the U.S. East Coast thanks to a one-two punch from naturally occurring climate variations, according to a new study. The study shows that seas rose in the southeastern U.S. between 2011 and 2015 by more than six times the global average sea level rise that is already happening due to human-induced global warming.

  • Sea-level rise accelerating along U.S. East Coast

    Sea level rise on the East Coast has been much less than 1 millimeter (mm) per year for the entire period 0 AD to 1800 AD, and, since then, it has skyrocketed. In fact, the rate of sea level rise on the East Coast is the highest it has been for at least 2,000 years, and the rate of global sea level rise is above 1.7 mm per year. In New York City, the rate of sea level rise is more than 3 mm per year in an area that currently houses more than $25 billion of infrastructure at less than 1 meter above sea level.

  • Protecting the power grid from low-budget attacks

    Cyberattacks against power grids and other critical infrastructure systems have long been considered a threat limited to nation-states due to the sophistication and resources necessary to mount them. Last week, at the Black Hat USA 2017 conference in Las Vegas, a team of researchers challenged that notion by disclosing vulnerabilities in a component that combined with publicly available information provide sufficient information to model an advanced, persistent threat to the electrical grid.