Texas Tech University

Hurricane Harvey: A Fluke or the Future?

Scott Pelley

September 25, 2017

CBS News - Like rounds of artillery, hurricanes are coming in a salvo the likes of which we haven't seen in more than a decade. Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico this past week, was the first Category Four to make a direct hit on the island in 85 years.

Was the world capital of fossil fuels brought low by climate change? We asked Katherine Hayhoe, a leading atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University.

Katherine Hayhoe: It's too early to tell. The postmortem will take years so to speak because climate science is all about the long term statistics we can say, absolutely without a doubt, that this hurricane took place over altered background conditions. Our planet is very different today than it would have been 50 or 100 years ago.

By "altered background" she means that the oceans of 2017 are on track to be the third warmest on record. Warmer water intensifies hurricanes three ways.

Katherine Hayhoe: First of all, in a warmer world more water evaporates into the atmosphere and so when a storm like a hurricane comes along there is so much more water vapor sitting up there for the hurricane to sweep up and dump on us. The second reason is sea level rise.

Read the story here.