Houston, TX

Climate Change Poses A Growing Threat To Houston

Matt Lillywhite

Houston has already experienced the negative impact of climate changeHeatwaves are getting hotter. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful. Also, sea levels are rising on the Gulf Coast. And unfortunately, things are poised to worsen over the next few decades.

Here's why:

Unchecked Urban Sprawl Could Lead To More Flooding.

According to Forbes, "The Houston Metropolitan Area is expected to add 3 million people, growing from about 7 million to 10 million between now and mid-century. The projected population growth, accompanied by an increasing urban sprawl, will compound the risk presented by flooding."

"If you are going to put 4 million people in this flood-vulnerable area in a way which involves the ubiquitous application of impervious surfaces, you're going to get flooding," said Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University researcher. "The driving force is the built environment."

One of the primary reasons that unchecked urban sprawl causes flooding is that new developments and neighborhoods are sometimes built on geographic features that normally absorb excess rainfall. "Founded on the banks of the Buffalo Bayou, Houston barely rises above sea level," according to NBC News. "Making matters worse, its flat terrain and clay soil are susceptible to the flooding of a humid climate that produces extreme rainfall."

Extreme Heatwaves Will Create Deadly Droughts.

Later this century, heatwaves in Texas and other southern states could lead to 70 consecutive days with the heat index topping 100 degrees, per The Washington Post. "People living in the South are likely to face some of the most dramatic changes over the next several decades. A previous analysis found that the southern half of the country also faces the greatest risk of wildfires."

"We're talking about taking summer, which is already hot, and expanding it for months," said Jaime González, director of the Houston Healthy Cities program for the Nature Conservancy in Texas. "That's going to cause all sorts of disruptions to everyday life."

Climate Change Could Make Hurricanes More Intense.

Warm ocean water produces a lot of the energy that powers storms. So, physics suggests that hurricanes in Houston will become stronger as the planet warms. Quoting an article published by Forbes:

"A warmer Earth means warmer oceans, which means greater regions of our planet with ocean temperatures at or above the 80 °F/27 °C threshold, including at higher latitudes. Warmer water takes up more volume, so sea levels are higher and coastal flooding is more common and intense."

It's also worth mentioning that hurricanes may decay more slowly when they make landfall due to the warming of Earth's climate, per BBC News. "Hurricanes decay at a slower rate in a warmer climate," said Prof Pinaki Chakraborty from the Okinawa Institute for Science and Technology in Japan. For North Atlantic land-falling hurricanes, the timescale of decay has almost doubled over the past 50 years."

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