• Houston’s flooding underscores disaster management challenges of years to come

    As the Earth’s climate changes, many scientists predict that warmer temperatures could lead to intensifying hurricanes, with individual storms dropping more rain. As such, the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in and around Houston may presage the challenges that disaster managers will face in the years ahead.

  • With reservoirs past capacity, what can flood control officials, engineers do?

    For the last few days, the world has been watching as Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall, first as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday in the Texas Gulf Coast. As the storm has moved out, some parts of the region may see more than 50 inches of rain, according to forecasters. With heavy rain still expected, rivers rising, and major dams outside of Houston overflowing as Storm Harvey pushes reservoirs past capacity, what can flood control officials and engineers do?

  • Urban floods intensifying while countryside drying up

    A global analysis of rainfall and rivers has discovered a growing pattern of intense flooding in urban areas coupled with drier soils in rural and farming areas. The study reviewed data collected from more than 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites across 160 countries. Global warming leads to more intense storms: a warming atmosphere means warmer air, and warmer air can store more moisture. So when the rains do come, there is a lot more water in the air to fall, and rainfall is more intense. In small catchments and urban areas where there are limited expanses of soil to capture and retain moisture, the intense downpours become equally intense floods, overwhelming stormwater infrastructure and disrupting life.

  • Flood-damaged books, documents may be salvageable with electron beam technology

    Documents, books and similar items soaked and muddied in the potentially sewage-laden flood waters produced by Hurricane Harvey may be salvageable with the use of electronic beam technology. The technology is useful for killing mold, fungus, and bacteria that invade moist environments.

  • Harvey and Katrina: A comparison

    Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall and flooding continue to pummel east Texas, and resident along Louisiana’s southwestern coast are anxiously waiting for the second round of Harvey’s landfall today. The scenes from Houston bring to mind the 2005 storm Katrina, which battered New Orleans and the Louisiana coast, causing 1,833 deaths and about $108 billion in damages. How does Hurricane Harvey compare to the 2005 Katrina?

  • “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.

  • Extreme weather, event-attribution science mean businesses, governments risk more litigation

    With Hurricane Harvey battering the southern United States, a new report warns that governments and business may be increasingly at risk of litigation for failing to prevent foreseeable climate-related harm to people and infrastructure. “Identifying the human influence in events once only understood as ‘acts of god’ will reshape the legal landscape, meaning governments and businesses could be sued if they don’t take action to protect people from floods, heatwaves and other foreseeable climate change risks.”

  • Harvey's cost could reach $100 billion: Insurance experts

    The floods caused by Hurricane Harvey are only going to worsen in the coming days, but insurance experts say that estimates based on the damage Harvey has already caused suggest that the financial cost of the devastating hurricane could be as high as $100 billion. The 2005 Hurricane Katrina-caused damaged reached $120 billion, of which $80 billion were insured losses. The 2012 Megastorm Sandy caused $75 billion in economic losses.

  • 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.

  • Post-Hurricane Katrina personal debt fell for those worst hit, but at a cost

    In the U.S., more than 200 weather and climate disasters have exceeded $1 billion in damages since 1980, with a total cost exceeding $1.2 trillion. Yet, relatively little is known about how people affected by natural disasters cope with the resulting financial shock.

  • 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.