Very quickly climate scientists were being asked about the potential role of human-caused climate change in enhancing the impacts of the storm.
I wrote an article for The Conversation on Monday and around the same time I saw lots of other articles popping up. Here are just a few:
- It's a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly by Michael Mann
- Did Climate Change Intensify Hurricane Harvey? by Rob Meyer (interviewing Kevin Trenberth)
- Link between Hurricane Harvey and climate change is unclear by Fredi Otto
- Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change by Matt McGrath (interviewing Sir Brian Hoskins, Fredi Otto, Stefan Rahmstorf and Ilan Kelman)
Some of these articles are by scientists and others are by journalists, and despite the different titles they all contain a very similar message.
I find it remarkable how consistent climate scientists have been in responding to the question of climate change and Harvey. While these articles take slightly different approaches they have discussed the same general ideas including:
- that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, as described by the Clausius Clapeyron relation. This means that climate change is likely enhancing the rainfall totals.
- that climate change-induced sea level rise is increasing the height and penetration of storm surges.
- the increased warmth of the sea surface and the atmosphere is resulting in more energetic storms.
- the northward shift in the polar jet and associated high pressure over much of the US preventing Harvey from traveling quickly north. This is part of a general trend linked to climate change.
- other exacerbating factors that aren't linked to climate change, such as the expansion of Houston and increase in impervious surfaces.
The message from these articles has been consistent and clear: while we can't say climate change triggered Harvey, we can say that it has enhanced the impacts of this storm.
No specific attribution analysis for Hurricane Harvey has been undertaken yet. In my opinion it is extremely difficult to perform such a study for two main reasons. Firstly, the climate models we have are not quite up to scratch in terms of representing such extreme hurricanes and the relevant processes associated with them. Secondly, there are many variables of interest that we would need to consider in any full attribution study of the event, including the rainfall, the winds, and the sea surface temperatures. This makes it very difficult to provide any specific attribution statement.
On the plus side, at least we, as climate scientists, are not sending out too many conflicting messages with respect to the role of climate change in this event.
Note: Both Carbon Brief and Climate Feedback have published comprehensive articles looking at climate scientists' responses to the question over the role of climate change in Hurricane Harvey.