Hurricane Harvey crossed the shorelines of southern Texas on August 25, marking the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a dozen years. The storm hovered over the coast for days, dumping more than 60 inches of rain in some areas, killing more than 80 people and displacing thousands.
Irma and Maria added to the toll of destruction, making the hyperactive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season the most expensive ever, racking up more than $200 billion in damages.
Several recent studies concluded that shifting climate conditions significantly increased the odds of an extreme event such as Harvey. Among other climatic factors, warmer air holds more moisture, and higher sea levels raise the height of storm surges, both of which can increase the destructive power of storms.
A study published in Environmental Research Letters in December concluded that global warming made an event like Harvey around three times more likely. Meanwhile, a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Kerry Emanuel, a prominent hurricane researcher and professor of atmospheric science at MIT, found that events of similar magnitude will become far more likely as the climate warms further.
“We see probabilities of Harvey-type rainfalls going up by factors of 10 by the late 20th century and early 21st” under a “business as usual” greenhouse emissions trajectory, he says.