Texas Hurricane Harvey and Floods

Rescue in Harvey Flood (Photographer unknown)

Anyone living in Texas right now is probably not spending time reading this blog. So this is for the rest of the country who will have questions from their kids. This amount of rain following a hurricane is called “unprecedented,” but is it the result of climate change? Your kids will probably be told in school that this should shut up the “climate change deniers.” Let’s look at it objectively.

Hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Harvey is a major disaster. But there have been many weather-caused disasters before this one. Why is this different? Houston has grown tremendously. It’s now called a “metroplex” rather than just a city. That means what used to be soil, is now streets, roads, parking lots, and buildings both residential and commercial. Much of the soil that previously acted like a sponge, helping to soak up the excess rain, is now impenetrable. And I read that  the water drainage, for some reason, is mostly in the direction of downtown Houston.

But, you still have this “unprecedented” rainfall. Did you know that in December, 1935, Houston’s downtown was flooded, and at Buffalo Bayou in Houston the water level measured 54.4 feet at its peak? Of course, that might have been a bit easier to deal with because you didn’t have a metroplex population of just under seven million. Another way to compare 1935 with 2017 is that the level in the same location is, at least at this time, 38 feet, which is 16 feet less than it reached in 1935. Although the rain doesn’t seem to be over yet, and the level reached this year will undoubtedly rise, give thanks for small favors.

Downtown Houston: Flood of 1935

But there is so much rain this time. Again, “unprecedented.” It must be because of global warming. Maybe not. In 1979 Tropical Storm Claudette  dumped 43” of rain on Houston in only 24 hours. In this case, Harvey has a high pressure area that is keeping it from moving on and weakening. Climate change doesn’t cause a storm to get stuck in place, high pressure above it does.

But this was a hurricane, not a tropical storm! Keep in mind that there have been only four hurricanes hitting the United States that were Category 4 or stronger since 1970,  (47 years) but in the 47 years preceding 1970 there were fourteen of them! Don’t forget that it has been 12 years, a long time—an “unprecedented” long time—without a hurricane that was Category 3 or stronger. Meteorologically speaking, we were probably due for one.

A CNN news anchor asked Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center, if he thought Harvey was as bad as it is because of global warming. You can read his full answer here, but basically he said, “No.”

Tell your kids about this so if their teachers try to lay the Harvey disaster on climate change, they can say they have some additional information to contribute. But tell them to do that as we read in Colossians 3:12:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”