The impact of climate change

Of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time in the U.S., nine have been since 2004. And half have been in the past five years.

In the past three years, the city of Houston alone has endured three so-called 500-year floods.

While there’s much we don’t know about climate change, here are three things we know for certain:

  1. Climate change increased the intensity and likelihood of storms – 2017 was a devastating year of natural disasters, by any measure, from wildfires in several western states to intense heatwaves in the Southwest to Harvey, followed closely by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

A recent study by hurricane experts in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences found that Harvey’s unprecedented 51 inches of rainfall in the Houston area, as well as wind speeds in other parts of the state, were three times more likely and 15 percent more intense than without climate change. The study even called the rainfall “biblical” – as in, it has likely occurred only once since the time the Old Testament was written.

In Texas now, the odds of another Harvey-like rainfall could be nearly 1 in 5 per year by 2100 – put another way, rain of this magnitude could hit the state 18 times more often by the end of the century. Storms that have more than 20 inches of rain in Texas are about six times more likely now than they were at the end of the 20th century, just 18 years ago.

Climate change did not cause Hurricane Harvey, but it certainly made its impact much worse. Like an athlete on steroids, climate change enhances the performance of an already powerful force.

  1. The costs are and will continue to be enormous – If we do not act to mitigate further damage, while adapting our infrastructure and our systems to the reality of climate change, we will face dire financial consequences that may prove impossible to work around.
  1. The impact on people is much deeper than numbers and dollars – Climate change isn’t just about studies and storm patterns, it means people are devastated.

After Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said, “Three 500-year floods in three years means either we’re free and clear for the next 1,500 years or something has seriously changed.”

Unfortunately, the reality is the latter.

[Environmental Defense Fund]

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