"With all this evidence out there, it is hard to believe there are still people who believe that this unprecedented storm is a one time thing because it is not, and the proof will be here soon enough."
By: Shreeya Indap
There isn’t a news source out there (besides maybe Seventeen Magazine and such) that haven’t covered the horrors of Hurricane Harvey, a tropical storm of unusual force that has ripped through Texas and Louisiana, destroyed property which will cost from $150-$180 billion to recover, and has currently killed at least 45 people.
In a previous article, we mentioned how it is hard to prove that climate change causes hurricanes, as they are called “natural” disasters. And while this remains true, with each instance of a hurricane, we gain more evidence on how it is making hurricanes worse, a lot worse.
Specific to Hurricane Harvey, there’s three main ways on how climate change is making this hurricane even more deadly, and how it’s changed the ways we usually see these natural disasters play out.
1. Warmer Waters
It is common knowledge that climate change has affected the oceans a great deal, as these cool waters consistently absorb heat from the air, leaving many marine animals and humans vulnerable.
Waters in the Gulf of Mexico, however, have gotten especially warmer than compared to some other bodies, between 2.7 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average to be exact. This is the main reason that Harvey was able to grow as it did, shown through a relationship called the Clausius-Clapeyron equation. It looks complicated, but what it tells us is that for every 0.5C warming of water, there is a 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture.
So, for example, in places where Gulf waters rose 5C, there was 30% more moisture in the air, creating more easy-access water for Harvey to feed off of. This is what allowed Harvey to go from a small tropical depression to a Category 4 hurricane in a matter of just two days, and cause the fatal rainfall and flooding we have seen. In fact, this hurricane broke the record for the the heaviest rainfall from a storm in the continental US with 52 inches in just five days.
Additionally, most storms weaken as they grow because their winds tend to start picking up colder water from below the surface. And while this usually happens to hurricanes, it didn’t to Harvey, and it won’t to many future storms. Why? It’s because the water that is 100 or even 200 meters below the surface still retains high temperatures, so hurricanes will be able to keep growing, all because of climate change.
2. Sea Level Rise
3. Absence of Winds
I was initially going to explain this reason myself, but I thought Michael E Mann laid it out well, “The more tenuous but potentially relevant climate factors: part of what has made Harvey such a devastating storm is the way it has stalled near the coast... The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds, which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth. This pattern, in turn, is associated with a greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the US at the moment, with the jet stream pushed well to the north. This pattern of subtropical expansion is predicted in model simulations of human-caused climate change.”
Basically, as this high pressure system expands because of climate change, we’ll be seeing more hurricanes of great intensity taking their leisurely time in moving to the next location, resulting in billions of dollars in damage as we have seen with Harvey.
With all this evidence out there, it is hard to believe there are still people who believe that this unprecedented storm is a one time thing because it is not, and the proof will be here soon enough. In fact, next up is Hurricane Irma, which scientists say could potentially be even worse than Hurricane Harvey.
However, if you are one of those who who still think climate change is a hoax, or not an important issue, then hear me out. If not for science, do it to for your money. Just this one hurricane is going to cost more than ones like Katrina or Sandy ever did. Trump has already asked Congress for $8 billion for Harvey relief and this number will only increase once the waters clear away and we know what the real destruction is. And, as the Texas governor said in a statement, “Katrina caused if I recall more than $120 billion but when you look at the number of homes and business affected by this I think this will cost well over $120 billion, probably $150 to $180 billion.” And who is going to pay for this damage, greatly intensified by climate change? All of us, including the non-believers.
Climate change is going to make certain of stronger, stranger, and scarier hurricane behaviors. From storms stalling by the coast to intensifying hours before landfall (which hadn’t happened in 30 years till Harvey), hurricanes are going to get more unpredictable, and far more destructive in the future. And the only way we can fight them is by fighting the issue of climate change. So let’s get to it!
Click here to read what you can do to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.