After Harvey, Time to Adapt to New Climate Reality: Experts

Article ID: 680186

Released: 28-Aug-2017 4:20 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Northwestern University

Expert Pitch
  • Credit: Northwestern University

    Dan Horton

  • Credit: Northwestern University

    Joe Schofer

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Daniel Horton, an expert on the link between climate change and extreme weather events, and Joe Schofer, whose research focuses in part on infrastructure failures during severe weather events, are available to comment on Hurricane Harvey. 

Horton says Harvey’s precipitation is consistent with projections of more extreme rainfall events as the Earth warms, meaning policymakers and businesses must adapt to a new norm. Schofer, host of The Infrastructure Show Podcast, stresses the importance of learning from Harvey on how to systematically address permanent weaknesses in the country’s infrastructure.

An assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Horton may be reached at daniel.horton@northwestern.edu or 847-467-6185 (office).

Quote from Horton on climate change’s contribution to the storm’s intensity:
“While Harvey was a Category 4 storm with winds in excess of 130 mph, it appears the most harmful aspect of the storm will be extensive rainfall-induced flooding. Two signature effects of climate change likely helped intensify the rainfall associated with Harvey: (1) Warmer sea surface temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico allowed the storm to rapidly intensify, leading to stronger winds, more evaporation and more moisture in the atmosphere; (2) A warmer atmosphere is also able to hold more water vapor, such that when it does rain, more moisture can fall from the sky.”

On how Harvey serves as a warning for future extreme-weather planning: 
“The ongoing events in Houston should help delineate the nature of the challenges ahead. To limit the impact of future high-impact extreme events, adaptation measures should consider our new climate reality. In terms of future events, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor in all regions, not just coastal environments. Extreme precipitation events are projected to increase in intensity in the future as a consequence of continued warming.” 

Schofer is a professor of civil and environmental engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and a transportation committee member for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. He may be reached directly at j-schofer@northwestern.edu or 847-220-7925 (mobile).

Quote from Schofer:
“Every disaster of this magnitude is a probe that shows us just where our infrastructure is weak: coastal storm barriers, inadequate drainage system, low-lying critical infrastructure components, essential services and mobility systems. As the water rises, the mission is not only to protect, rescue, secure and sustain people, but also to work to reduce the damage from the next big storm. 

“Natural assaults on our infrastructure present us with a ‘pay me now, or pay me later’ situation. Thoughtful investment in reducing vulnerabilities has been shown to reduce long-term costs from loss and damage. When the flood waters drain, let us not forget to invest in securing the infrastructure, the economy and the people in Galveston, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Miami, New York and Boston.”

 


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