Scientists are starting to ask whether there is a link between Hurricane Harvey and human-caused climate change.
And they’re saying that while climate change is not likely to be a direct cause of the Category 4 storm, it has undoubtedly played a role in its historic precipitation.
“Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge,” Michael Mann, an atmospheric scientist at Penn State University, wrote in the Guardian on Monday.
“Is climate change contributing to the intensity, and especially the magnitude of the precipitation? Yes,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The Hill added:
The attribution question has been at the forefront of numerous major weather events in recent years, including California’s drought, Superstorm Sandy and the 2013 polar vortex.
But it’s taken on a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, thanks in large part to President Trump’s doubts about climate change science and his efforts to roll back nearly every Obama administration policy meant to combat climate change.
Most recently, Trump signed an executive order to stop Obama’s initiative that called for federally funded infrastructure to be built to withstand the expected effects of climate change, including frequent floods.
Some climate activists see Harvey as a great reminder of the extremely negative effects of not taking bold and strong enough action against the human causes of climate change.
“Once the storm has passed, the Trump administration must rethink its dangerous denial of how climate change is increasing threats to people along America’s shorelines,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the climate law institute at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Harvey’s destruction shows the danger of Trump’s recent order to disregard flood risks to federal infrastructure along our coasts. As climate change drives up damage from flooding and storm surges, the president is blocking efforts to protect bridges and highways from future hurricanes.”
“People are extremely confident, increasingly so, one way or the other on this. And it’s not clear that past singular weather disasters have had an enduring effect,” said Barry Rabe, an environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, citing polling data from past disasters.
“With something this scale and magnitude, nationally or internationally significant, hitting a major urban area … it may change the thought or perception in some way.”
However, Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist at WeatherBell Analytics, is not ready to make any connection between Harvey and climate change, saying that Harvey is within what he would expect, given recent weather patterns.
“I could give you 100 examples of how Harvey has occurred all over the world in other places,” he said.
“While this stalling and heavy rain is unprecedented in the Houston area, you have hundreds of places across the globe where tropical cyclones have stalled.”