Skip to content

Did global warming cause Hurricane Harvey? No, but here's what it did to make it worse

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
8/31/2017 (1 year ago)
Catholic Online (

Global warming made the storm worse, but was not the cause.

Hurricane Harvey may be the worst storm in American history in a number of categories. It spawned and turned into a category 4 storm within a very short time. It has impacted the U.S. for more than a week, and it has dropped an unprecedented quantity of rain, leading to historic flooding. Damage estimates range as high as $160 billion with uninsured people bearing the brunt of the losses. Is global warming to blame?

By many measures, Hurricane Harvey is the worst storm in American history.

By many measures, Hurricane Harvey is the worst storm in American history.


By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)
Catholic Online (
8/31/2017 (1 year ago)

Published in Green

Keywords: Hurricane Harvey, global warming, storm, worse, impact

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- Hurricane Harvey has not yet left the United States, with the system, spinning and roiling over the Mississippi river, on its way into Tennessee and Kentucky. Harvey has dumped an estimated fifty inches of rain on parts of Texas, or the equivalent of nine-trillion gallons of water. And the rain is still falling along its path.

Harvey developed quickly, growing from a tropical wave to a category 4 storm in about 48 hours. While hurricanes routinely make landfall in the Gulf, never has one dumped so much rain on one area. The storm stalled over Texas, leading to massive flooding. The storm also spawned tornadoes at the same time flooding was taking place, making it exceptionally dangerous. It is difficult to take shelter in a basement when the basement is filling with water. In several instances, people were being told to move to their roofs to await rescue at the same time tornado warnings were being issued.

The official National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) models, which are used to make weather predictions were largely accurate. They predicted up to 20 inches of rain in most areas and up to 40 or more in some places. Flooding was forecast to be widespread. Yet the meteorologists were taken by surprise because they had a hard time believing their models. Were the models wrong? That's a problem with unprecedented events, they defy belief.

The amount of actual rainfall around Houston was so extreme that official measurements were off the scale. The National Weather Service added a new color to its weather map, lavender. The color represents "unfathomable."

The NWS added lavender to its maps to show

The NWS added lavender to its maps to show 'unfathomable' rainfall.

Why did this happen? Some experts have quickly blamed global warming, almost as a knee-jerk reaction. Scientists have long predicted a rise in extreme weather events as a hallmark of global warming.

The conclusion is a bit premature, and in fact, a storm like Harvey probably would have happened without global warming. The difference global warming makes is in the intensity of the storm.

The fact the planet is warming is confirmed by decades of temperature records gathered from around the world for over a century. There is debate over the quality and integrity of those records, and various schemes have been attempted to "adjust" the data to "correct" for variations. Such efforts often generate more controversy than they are worth. However, the data is clear on one point, the planet is warming. Even satellite data, which is calibrated and needs no adjustment reveals the planet is warming.

So far, Earth is thought to be about 1 degree Celsius warmer than it should be as a result of warming.

But why is the Earth warming, and what does this have to do with Hurricane Harvey?

The reason for the planet's warming is open to debate. Most experts claim it is the result of human activity. Human activity puts carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and CO2 is a known greenhouse gas. There appears to be a correlation between CO2 and temperature increases. Human-produced CO2 also has a unique isotope, allowing scientists to affirm that it is human activity, not natural activity, responsible for the rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Not everyone agrees with these conclusions. 

Regardless of why the planet is warming, the warmer planet means more evaporation. And more evaporation means more rainfall.

The warmer temperatures probably caused Harvey to stall over Texas.  Normally, as storms move north into the continental United States, they are torn apart by the jet stream and weather patterns flowing east. But to the north and west of Harvey was a high-pressure system situated firmly over the Great Basin. That system has resulted in record-breaking, unseasonably hot temperatures in the Southwest. This had the added effect of stalling the storm over Texas, making it worse.

Harvey would have caused flooding no matter what, but the storm was likely exacerbated by global warming.

Harvey would have caused flooding no matter what, but the storm was likely exacerbated by global warming.

If we accept that global warming is real, then it is certain the phenomenon also contributed to the intensity of Hurricane Harvey. Without global warming, perhaps Harvey would have been a category 3 storm, not a 4. It might have passed over Houston within hours, and never stalled. There still would have been a disaster, but perhaps it would have been less intense than what is unfolding now.

To blame the entire storm on global warming is a foolish conclusion. Run, don't walk away from any such notions. Yet, it is virtually certain that global warming made the situation worse.

So, what can we do about it? The ideas vary from mere adaptation to proactive reduction of carbon output. And there are many ways to reduce human carbon emissions. While we can take some common sense measures, such as using renewable energy and switching to hybrid or electric cars, adaptation seems to be the most feasible choice.

If you live in a region prone to flooding, buy flood insurance. Maintain your home. Have a disaster preparedness plan, and a kit with supplies laid in. Keep your car ready to go. Think carefully where you purchase property. And it doesn't hurt to recycle, conserve energy, plant trees, and so on.

None of these choices can stop a hurricane, but they could make the difference between losing a little and losing a lot, if you have the misfortune to be caught in the path of the next storm.


More Green

Earth's lungs are burning, and soon ours will too Watch

Image of Smoke from the fires in the Amazon has turned day into night in Sao Paulo, and forced President Bolosonaro to take action.

Some environmentalists say the Amazon rainforest is the lungs of planet Earth. At this time, those lungs are burning, and soon ours will ... continue reading

Greenland, Trump and Global Warming Watch

Image of Greenland is covered in ice, but for how much longer?

President Trump has inquired to his staff about the prospect of purchasing Greenland from Denmark. The inquiry comes as global warming ... continue reading

Scientists learn the Milky Way isn't flat and here's why Watch

Image of An map of the Milky Way galaxy reveals it is warped, instead of flat as often depicted in textbooks.

A team of researchers from the University of Warsaw has discovered the Milky Way isn't a flat disk, as often depicted in textbooks. ... continue reading

Making a Difference: Lessons for Earth 50 years after first moon landing

Image of Space and space exploration is fascinating; especially since it easily helps one to see our awesome God reflected in his awesome creation!

If you were at least 10-years-old on July 20, 1969, you will surely remember that your eyes were glued to a black and white television set ... continue reading

Should Catholics support population control? Watch

Image of Should we support population control to save the planet?

As Earth approaches 8 billion living persons, questions over how to manage our resources become pressing. Every day, 7.54 billion people ... continue reading

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.