Attributable human-induced changes in the magnitude of flooding in the Houston, Texas region during Hurricane Harvey


Climatic change

Climate change 19.05.2021

Using Fathom’s US flood model to examine how climate change exacerbated the impact of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston in 2017. This research estimates $13bn of damages caused were attributable to anthropogenic global warming.

The human influence on precipitation during tropical cyclones due to the global warming is now well documented in the literature. Several studies have found increases in Hurricane Harvey’s total precipitation over the Greater Houston area ranging from the Clausius-Clapeyron limit of 7% to as much as 38% locally. Here we use a hydraulic model to translate these attribution statements about precipitation to statements about the resultant flooding and associated damages.

We find that while the attributable increase in the total volume of flood waters is the same as the attributable increase in precipitation, the attributable increase in the total area of the flood is less. However, we also find that in the most heavily flooded parts of Houston, the local attributable increases in flood area and volume are substantially larger than the increase in total precipitation. The results of this storyline attribution analysis of the Houston flood area are used to make an intuitive best estimate of the cost of Hurricane Harvey attributable to anthropogenic global warming as thirteen billion US dollars.