Did Climate Change cause Harvey?

Photo by kakela/CC by -NC-ND 2.0

Article by Monishaa Suresh

Day by day, the damages caused by Hurricane Harvey add up, making it the one of the costliest storms in American history, second only to Hurricane Katrina [1]. However, as the Texas residents begin the damage control and repair process for their homes and livelihoods, a big question remains– Did climate change cause Hurricane Harvey?


While a recent report by 13 federal agencies shows that the increasing temperatures caused by human activity have been accompanied by more frequent occurrences of extreme weather, the majority of experts agree that the storm itself was not caused by climate change. However, the effects of the storm have been magnified by climate change. A warmer global climate allows for greater humidity and moisture in the air, which in turn can mean heavier rainfall during a storm. Furthermore, records show that the Gulf of Mexico has increased its temperatures 2 degrees Fahrenheit due to human activities [2].


While statistics show that climate change likely increases the severity of Hurricanes, like Harvey, many still live in denial. The best time to convince the public is now, in the wake of such a destructive and tragic event. Adam Sobel, from Columbia University, says of the short time period following such a disaster, “It’s the only time people pay attention” giving scientists a short time frame to reach a public that is temporarily more cognizant of the environment and changing climate. So while Harvey was not caused by climate change, its effects would have been far less destructive had humans become more proactive dealing with climate change. At the same time, while we have everyone’s attention on weather and the environment, now is the time to remind people of the damage we cause to the environment as well as our communities and infrastructure when we leave climate change unchecked.

[1] Pearle, Lauren “Hurricane Harvey projected to be at least 2nd costliest storm in US history” ABCNews (September 1, 2017) http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-harvey-projected-2nd-costliest-storm-us-history/story?id=49565583

[2] Severinghaus, Jeff “It doesn’t take much to make a hurricane worse” San Diego Tribune (September 5, 2017) http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/sd-hurricane-irma-harvey-utak-letters-20170905-story.html

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