Cities Grab onto Hurricanes; Buildings Make the Rain Worse

IT WASN’T A whodunnit. Last year’s unprecedented rainfall and flooding in Houston were the proximate result of Hurricane Harvey, a massive storm born northeast of Venezuela and reborn in the Gulf of Mexico, where it rapidly intensified, made landfall over Houston, and then stayed—parked, as it were, for five days. Harvey was, however, something of a whydunnit. Why did the storm drop more than four feet of rain on the city?

Hurricane-climate-change-planet-on-fire, yes, stipulated. But new research suggests that the fault was not only in our meteorology, but ourselves. The city—the fact of its city-ness, of its raw Houstonosity, may well have made Harvey’s rainfall worse. And the implications for coastal cities in a Burning World are, at minimum, very wet.

Hurricane Harveys hardly ever happen over Houston, one might say—in the late 20th century it would’ve been a 2,000-year storm. In 2017, Harvey was six times more likely. Climate change theory also predicts more rapidly intensifying hurricanes that move more slowly and drop more rain—just like you-know-who. This is thanks to humans burning carbon-based fuel and coughing the leftovers into the atmosphere. Very bad! Look at what you did! Bad! No more treats.

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