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Skyscrapers May Have Made The Impact Of Hurricane Harvey Worse: Study

The scientists projected future warming and found future versions of the same storms would be significantly wetter and stronger.

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Hurricane, climate change, disasters, U.S., economic, storms
Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey overflow from Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston, Texas, VOA

Humans helped make recent devastating U.S. hurricanes wetter but in different ways, two new studies find.

Hurricane Harvey snagged on the skyscrapers of Houston, causing it to slow and dump more rain than it normally would, one study found. The city’s massive amounts of paving had an even bigger impact by reducing drainage. Land development in the metro area, on average, increased the chances of extreme flooding by 21 times, study authors said.

A second study looked at last year’s major Hurricanes Maria and Irma and 2005’s deadly Katrina and used computer simulations to see what would have happened if there had been no human-caused global warming. The study found that climate change significantly increased rainfall from those three storms, but did not boost their wind speed.

Both studies are in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

Hurricane, skyscraper
A smoky haze envelopes the skyscrapers and Rocky Mountains that usually can be seen as a backdrop to the city from a high-rise building, Aug. 20, 2018, in Denver. VOA

Houston was a literal drag on Harvey as it sloshed through, with the storm getting tripped up by the skyscrapers, said study co-author Gabriele Villarini, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Iowa.

Co-author Gabe Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said that forced the storm to move up higher, causing more concentrated rain over Houston and slowing, which also made more rain.

He compared it to a river running over rocks, creating bubbles.

“That’s sort of what’s going on here,” he said.

This effect is dwarfed, though, by the paving and building that don’t allow water to sink into the ground, Vecchi said.

Harvey’s record rainfall reached 5 feet in one spot near Houston. The scientists used computer simulations to see the effects of urbanization. In parts of the Houston metro area, the effects of development ranged from a 10 percent higher risk of extreme flooding in the less developed northwest to nearly 92 times the risk in the northeast, they reported.

Hurricane Florence, Lawmakers,
A work truck drives on Hwy 24 as the wind from Hurricane Florence blows palm trees in Swansboro N.C. VOA

That’s on top of the unique weather patterns that made Harvey slow down and stall and climate change which brought more water into the storm, Vecchi said.

MIT hurricane and climate expert Kerry Emanuel, who wasn’t part of the study, called the Harvey study “a real advance in our understanding of hurricane impacts on urban areas.”

But Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon wasn’t convinced. He said the team used generic shapes instead of the actual Houston skyline. He said the storm’s wind speeds may have slowed, but that’s different from the storm’s forward movement slowing.

The other study in Nature looked at a variety of historical damaging storms and tried to calculate past and future effects of climate change. In three cases, the scientists simulated the storms without the changes in the climate from greenhouse gases, showing that global warming increased rainfall 8.9 percent in Hurricane Maria , 6.3 percent in Hurricane Irma and 8.7 percent in Hurricane Katrina .

Maria hit Puerto and Rico and other parts of the Caribbean. Irma hit the Caribbean and Florida, while Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Climate Change, Hurricanes
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

In Maria’s case, a warming climate concentrated heavier rain in the center of the storm and reduced it on the edges, said co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

For 15 storms, which included the devastating Typhoon Haiyan , the potent Gilbert and 1992’s Hurricane Andrew , the scientists projected future warming and found future versions of the same storms would be significantly wetter and stronger.

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“We are beginning to see a climate change influence emerge on tropical cyclones and that’s coming out as rainfall,” said study lead author Christina Patricola, an atmospheric scientist at the national lab.

Although replicating a storm in a different climate is difficult and can’t account for certain changes, this work bolsters science understanding of how climate change alters hurricanes, Emanuel said. (VOA)

Next Story

Counting for Snow Leopards to begin, Plan to Double Numbers

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Wednesday that a protocol has been decided among the member countries to be the roadmap for enumeration of snow leopards

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Snow Leopards
The plan is to double the population of Snow Leopards in the world. Pixabay

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Wednesday that a protocol has been decided among the member countries to be the roadmap for enumeration of snow leopards.

He added that once the enumeration is completed, the plan is to double the population of snow leopards in the world.

Addressing the inaugural session of the fourth steering committee meeting of the Global Snow Leopard and Ecosystem Protection (GSLEP) programme on the occasion of International Snow Leopard Day, Javadekar said the maximum population of snow leopards is in Mongolia and China.

Giving the example of India’s success in counting tigers, he said the exercise was difficult till 20 years back but now India has done it and the population has touched 2,967 tigers, which is 77 per cent of the world tiger population. India has a rich ecology with 500 lions, 30000 elephants and 2500 single horn rhinos.

On snow leopards, he said that there is confidence that once the protocol has been finalised, it will help all the countries in the count which can then strive to double the population of snow leopards in the coming decade.

India will have a separate programme on snow leopards to include green pathways in the Himalayan region where they are found to also assist in livelihood creation and create an ecosystem, the Minister said.

He added that discussion, deliberations and cooperation will help the countries to move ahead on nature conservation. The countries then need to think about capacity building in nature issues and conservation of snow leopards, he said.

Snow Leopards
Javadekar said the maximum population of Snow Leopards is in Mongolia and China. Pixabay

He said he is confident of winning this important battle against climate change by conserving nature and the animal kingdom including leopards, tigers and there is a commitment to give a better planet to the next generation.

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Reiterating India’s commitment to cooperate with all countries to conserve nature, Javadekar said it is a responsibility to protect and conserve nature as a lot of injustice has been done by cutting trees and disturbing the natural ecology. (IANS)