• U.S. East Coast slowly sinks into the sea, faces more frequent flooding

    The East Coast of the United States is threatened by more frequent flooding in the future. The states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina are most at risk. Their coastal regions are being immersed by up to three millimeters per year – among other things, due to human intervention.

  • Designing a post-Harvey Houston for the future

    Being honest about the extent and urgency of the Houston-Galveston region’s flooding problem will not harm the community but will form the basis for recovery, according to a paper by an engineering and environmental expert. “Denying fundamental truths and moving forward with business as usual will be the economic death knell for the Houston region,” Rice University’s Jim Blackburn wrote in a paper highlighting fifteen policies and actions that are meant to initiate a conversation about designing a Houston for the future. “And make no mistake about it — how we respond to this horrible reality will determine the economic future of our region.”

  • What lessons will Houston-area officials learn from Harvey? History gives us a clue

    As Houston begins to recover from Harvey, a growing chorus of voices is calling for big policy changes to reduce flood damage from future disasters. Local officials haven’t said much about what they might pursue, but history offers some clues.

  • Are catastrophic disasters striking more often?

    Two major storms — Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma – in as many weeks raise this question: Is the number of major natural disasters striking the United States actually increasing, or does the media’s natural tendency to overhype conflict only make it seem so? Since 1980 there have been 212 disasters, which NOAA calculates resulted in over $1.2 trillion in damage. My analysis of the NOAA data shows that the number of billion-dollar disasters has indeed been increasing over time. A typical year in the 1980s experienced on average 2.7 such disasters in the U.S. In the 1990s and 2000s, that average had climbed to 4.6 and 5.4 a year, respectively. Since then, the frequency of costly disasters has soared. In this decade so far, each year has seen an average of 10.5 disasters. The scale of this increase amounts to one additional billion-dollar disaster every four years.

  • Water supply, quality in U.S. West affected by increased wildfire-caused erosion

    A growing number of wildfire-burned areas throughout the western United States are expected to increase soil erosion rates within watersheds, causing more sediment to be present in downstream rivers and reservoirs. The area burned annually by wildfires has increased in recent decades and is expected to continue to increase this century. Many growing cities and towns rely on water from rivers and reservoirs that originates in watersheds where wildfire and sedimentation are projected to increase. Increased sedimentation could negatively impact water supply and quality for some communities.

  • Hurricane Irma to cause significant erosion along U.S. east coast

    Large and powerful Hurricane Irma is likely to cause significant erosion along U.S. east coast beaches from Florida through South Carolina, according to a new projection from the U.S. Geological Survey. Strong waves and storm surge are likely to erode all sandy beaches in the three states, overtop sand dunes over three-quarters of the coast, and, in some areas, inundate areas behind the dunes. Water levels three to four meters, or 10 to 12 feet, above normal tide levels are likely for open coast shorelines along Florida’s Atlantic coast if Irma continues to track along the east coast.

  • Mexico quake amongst largest-ever intermediate-depth earthquakes

    An 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico early Friday, killing dozens of people. “The 8.2-magnitude earthquake (the best current estimate) makes this among the largest intermediate-depth earthquakes ever recorded. I believe it is one of the 5 largest in the last 40 years,” says an earthquake expert.

  • 6 rules for rebuilding infrastructure in an era of “unprecedented” weather events

    Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall on 25 August, there was little doubt that its impact would be devastating and wide-ranging. Unfortunately, Harvey delivered and then some with early estimates of the damage at over $190 billion, which would make it the costliest storm in U.S. history. As the Houston region turns its attention to rebuilding and other cities consider ramping up efforts to make their infrastructure more resilient, it is the complicated story behind the devastation in Houston – a story involving decades of land use planning and poor urban design that has generated impervious surfaces at a fantastic pace – that can provide valuable lessons for policymakers, planners, engineers, developers and the public. These lessons are all the more important against the backdrop of a Trump administration that has stripped requirements for infrastructure projects to consider climate impacts and may try to offer an infrastructure investment package.

  • A year before Harvey, Houston-area flood control chief saw no "looming issues"

    Experts say the flooding in the Houston region could have wreaked far less havoc if local officials had made different decisions over the last several decades. But the former head of a key flood control agency strongly disagreed with that take in an interview last year.

  • Montreal: The infrastructure cost of climate change

    Montreal’s climate is changing and will continue to do so at a rapidly increasing rate and with much more spatial variability in the future. “Climate plays a key role in the design and operation of urban infrastructure and to a large extent determines water and energy demands. As a result, changes in climate conditions will have direct impacts on how we design almost any aspect of the city, from its drainage system to its energy use,” explains one expert.

  • Climate change, infrastructure, and the economic impacts of Hurricane Harvey

    Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation with an economy the size of Sweden, and many other cities and towns in southeastern Texas have been devastated by the torrential rains and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Estimates put total rainfall in some areas as high as 52 inches, shattering the record for highest rainfall from a single storm in the continental United States. Stanford experts comment on how climate change and infrastructure planning contribute to the severity of impacts from extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey.

  • What Hurricane Harvey says about risk, climate and resilience

    The risks we face from disasters depend on three factors: hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. Despite the politicized discourse that suggests that the science is somehow a matter of opinion rather than fact, we are incredibly vulnerable to natural disasters – disasters that are increasingly being amplified in a warming world. What sensible, pragmatic, bipartisan steps can we take to increase our resilience to risks that a disaster like Hurricane Harvey represents? First and foremost, we should reduce our exposure and build resilience to the hazards we already face today. We can’t continue building in places that we know will flood. We need to build and modernize infrastructure to make our water management systems more resilient to both floods and droughts. Ultimately, though, even these practical steps may not be enough. In a changing climate, building capacity and resilience to cope with today’s risks leave us unprepared for future extremes. That’s why, in order to reduce the risk of disasters both here and abroad, we need to minimize the climate change that is turbocharging these events. Hurricane Harvey exemplifies the risks we all face – and a more dangerous future if we don’t take actions now. More people and vulnerable infrastructure exposed to more frequent and intense hazards equals even greater risk for us in the future. The time to rethink the equation is now.

  • Harvey’s losses “would reach $190 billion or 1 percent of the nation's GDP”: AccuWeather

    AccuWeather’s Dr. Joel N. Myers predicts that “The total losses from this storm would reach $190 billion or 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), countering the expected growth in the economy for the rest of this year.” The one percent loss that AccuWeather is predicting will be spread out over the next 12 months, but the bulk of it will occur over the next four months. “This is the costliest and worst natural disaster in American history,” Myers said.

  • Finding better routes for relief supplies to disaster sites like Houston

    Harvey’s trail of destruction through southern Texas this week is drawing attention to the difficulty of providing relief services in a place where roads, ports, and airports are heavily damaged, if not destroyed. One expert uses mathematical modeling and high-powered computing to develop quicker, more efficient ways of moving something from one place to another. “Commercial supply chains are focused on quality and profitability,” she says. “Humanitarian supply chains are focused on minimizing loss of life and suffering, and distribution is focused on equity and fairness much more than in commercial applications.”

  • To aid flood victims, forget goods. Send money

    Harvard experts offer advice on how best to help. “There is a natural inclination for generous people to send supplies of all sorts,” says Arnold Howitt, co-founder and co-director of the Program on Crisis Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. “We don’t know exactly what displaced people need, and the task of unpacking, sorting, and routing various items that randomly arrive in the disaster area is usually well beyond the constrained capabilities of the aid providers on the scene.”