Why Houston Flooding Isn’t a Sign of Climate Change

Water levels were 16 feet higher in the flood of 1935

by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

In the context of climate change, is what we are seeing in Houston a new level of disaster which is becoming more common?

The flood disaster unfolding in Houston is certainly very unusual. But so are other natural weather disasters, which have always occurred and always will occur.

(By the way, making naturally-occurring severe weather seem unnatural is a favorite tactic of Al Gore, whose new movie & book An Inconvenient Sequel [ currently #21,168 in Kindle] is dismantled in my new e-book, An Inconvenient Deception [currently #399]).

Floods aren’t just due to weather

Major floods are difficult to compare throughout history because the ways in which we alter the landscape. For example, as cities like Houston expand over the years, soil is covered up by roads, parking lots, and buildings, with water rapidly draining off rather than soaking into the soil. The population of Houston is now ten times what it was in the 1920s. The Houston metroplex area has expanded greatly and the water drainage is basically in the direction of downtown Houston.

There have been many flood disasters in the Houston area, even dating to the mid-1800s when the population was very low. In December of 1935 a massive flood occurred in the downtown area as the water level height measured at Buffalo Bayou in Houston topped out at 54.4 feet.

Downtown Houston flood of 1935.

By way of comparison, as of 6:30 a.m. this (Monday) morning, the water level in the same location is at 38 feet, which is still 16 feet lower than in 1935. I’m sure that will continue to rise.

Are the rainfall totals unprecedented?

Even that question is difficult to answer. The exact same tropical system moving at, say, 15 mph might have produced the same total amount of rain, but it would have been spread over a wide area, maybe many states, with no flooding disaster. This is usually what happens with landfalling hurricanes.

Instead, Harvey stalled after it came ashore and so all of the rain has been concentrated in a relatively small portion of Texas around the Houston area. In both cases, the atmosphere produced the same amount of rain, but where the rain lands is very different. People like those in the Houston area don’t want all of the rain to land on them.

There is no aspect of global warming theory that says rain systems are going to be moving slower, as we are seeing in Texas. This is just the luck of the draw. Sometimes weather systems stall, and that sucks if you are caught under one. The same is true of high pressure areas; when they stall, a drought results.

Even with the system stalling, the greatest multi-day rainfall total as of 3 9 a.m. this Monday morning is just over 30 39.7 inches, with many locations recording over 20 inches. We should recall that Tropical Storm Claudette in 1979 (a much smaller and weaker system than Harvey) produced a 43 inch rainfall total in only 24 hours in Houston.

Was Harvey unprecedented in intensity?

In this case, we didn’t have just a tropical storm like Claudette, but a major hurricane, which covered a much larger area with heavy rain. Roger Pielke Jr. has pointed out that the U.S. has had only four Category 4 (or stronger) hurricane strikes since 1970, but in about the same number of years preceding 1970 there were 14 strikes. So we can’t say that we are experiencing more intense hurricanes in recent decades.

Going back even earlier, a Category 4 hurricane struck Galveston in 1900, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people. That was the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.

And don’t forget, we just went through an unprecedented length of time – almost 12 years – without a major hurricane (Cat 3 or stronger) making landfall in the U.S.

So what makes this event unprecedented?

The National Weather Service has termed the event unfolding in the Houston area as unprecedented. I’m not sure why. I suspect in terms of damage and number of people affected, that will be the case. But the primary reason won’t be because this was an unprecedented meteorological event.

If we are talking about the 100 years or so that we have rainfall records, then it might be that southeast Texas hasn’t seen this much total rain fall over a fairly wide area. At this point it doesn’t look like any rain gage locations will break the record for total 24 hour rainfall in Texas, or possibly even for storm total rainfall, but to have so large an area having over 20 inches is very unusual.

They will break records for their individual gage locations, but that’s the kind of record that is routinely broken somewhere anyway, like record high and low temperatures.

In any case, I’d be surprised if such a meteorological event didn’t happen in centuries past in this area, before we were measuring them.

And don’t pay attention to claims of 500 year flood events, which most hydrologists dislike because we don’t have enough measurements over time to determine such things, especially when they also depend on our altering of the landscape over time.

Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center was asked by a CNN news anchor whether he thought that Harvey was made worse because of global warming. Read’s response was basically, No.

“Unprecedented” doesn’t necessarily mean it represents a new normal. It can just be a rare combination of events. In 2005 the U.S. was struck by many strong hurricanes, and the NHC even ran out of names to give all of the tropical storms. Then we went almost 12 years without a major (Cat 3 or stronger) hurricane strike.

Weird stuff happens.

I remember many years ago in one of the NWS annual summaries of lightning deaths there was a golfer who was struck by lightning. While an ambulance transported the man to the hospital, the ambulance was stuck by lightning and it finished the poor fellow off.

There is coastal lake sediment evidence of catastrophic hurricanes which struck the Florida panhandle over 1,000 years ago, events which became less frequent in the most recent 1,000 years.

Weather disasters happen, with or without the help of humans.

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171 thoughts on “Why Houston Flooding Isn’t a Sign of Climate Change

    • Back 200 years or so the Gulf Coast was mostly swamps. In the Houston Area we had swamps, alligators, cannibals and pirates. A sort of Peter Pan paradise. That’s the way nature wants it.

      • on the other hand Houston population experienced exponential population growth between 1900 and 1980 (table shows population in thousands)
        1900 ….. 45
        1910 ….. 79
        1920 ….. 138
        1930 ….. 292
        1940 ….. 385
        1950 ….. 596
        1960 ….. 938
        1970 ….. 1234
        1980 ….. 1595
        1990 ….. 1630
        2000 ….. 1978
        2010 ….. 2016
        2016 ….. 2303
        [2019 corrected above, .mod]

      • Swamps were nature’s way of accommodating floods.

        At high tide in a tidal channel like the Buffalo Bayou, most of the volume of the channel is normally taken up by seawater. Obviously, when a flood needs to flow along the channel as well, its volume has to be added on TOP of that of the seawater. The seawater doesn’t just ‘go away’ – it has the power of the ocean behind it. In a narrow confined channel (i.e. with high banks) the only way to create a big enough cross-sectional area to pass this combined volume, is for the water to get much, much higher. On the other hand, if the channel is not confined but has lower banks and wide water-meadows or swamps alongside it, the extra volume/cross-sectional area can be provided by the extra *width* – not height.

        Swamps and water-meadows stop floods level from getting too high. Unfortunately they tend to be seen as wasted, under-utilized land. Inevitably some developer acquires the swamp land, ‘reclaims it by heaping fill material onto it right up to the banks of the channel. The channel is now confined behind high banks and the areas upstream suffer heighted flood levels.

    • Thanks for posting. It looks like varying degrees of flooding in Houston every year since they started keeping rocords, in 1837. Makes me wonder why our coastal cities continue to expand and rebuild into these vulnerable areas after every storm. Will we ever get tired of sacrificing money to repopulate and rebuild where we should not?

      How about a gradual move inland?

      Amazing that politicians and climate scientists can get away with using the word “unprecedented” to describe the damages caused.

      • ” . . . get away with using unprecedented . . . ”

        Another network referred to it as “. . . of biblical proportions.”

      • “Makes me wonder why our coastal cities continue to expand and rebuild into these vulnerable areas after every storm.”

        Insurance money and government assistance.

      • Holland is mostly reclaimed land from the North Sea (courtesy of their Lebensraum neighbours); and despite frequent Winterstorms manage to survive and even thrive.

      • Yes, living on the Gulf Coast, (unless you’re a pirate) isn’t really a good idea in the long run. Houston though, unlike New Orleans, is at least above sea level.

      • On the west coast of Florida around Naples I’ve seen plenty of big houses built right on the water’s edge with docks adjacent to them for boats. While that area isn’t hit as often as the Texas Coast any place on the Gulf Coast will be struck eventually.

      • The thing is that we’ve improved our flood controls greatly. You can look at the total rainfall of the 1935 flood
        https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0796g/report.pdf
        It barely topped 20 inches. The flood control measures have made everything much better. Almost any other city would have been far worse off with a category 4 hurricane that stopped over the city.

        And as for why we build here. Three words “Port of Houston”. This is where we ship goods. Where we work. Where the materials are. Where the work is, the people have to be.

        In short, We will rebuild.

  1. In this crazy, over-hyped world, it’s nice to come to WUWT for a pleasant, fact abundant respite. Thanks.

    • Don’t get too comfy, Wharfplank. Irma is buffeting the East Coast. I’m sure that Irma will be hyped as the Disaster of the Decade or something, failing to take into account that Hurricane Sandy was a nasty little snot with a water volume that did enormous damage to the East Coast.

    • Winterstorms though not so deep as hurricanes cause huge tidal surges in the North sea are broad fronted and carry on into the Continent; I’ve seen pine forests in the aftermath flattened like matchwood in Switzerland.

  2. It’s unprecedented that this has never happened in 2017? Everything is new when your scope of reality is that of a house fly.

    • I wish I could make everyone in the media who uses the word “Unprecedented” go read Nick Taleb’s book, “Black Swan”. Although the book delves into many areas and makes many observations, his fundamental point is that, as human beings, we think these things which happen only once or twice in our lifetimes are extremely rare. But in fact, events that we think are “unusual” are in fact quite common. We just aren’t set up with enough experience or lifespan to perceive them that way.

      A huge flood event which only happens once every 100 years has, statistically speaking, happened 120 times since the last ice age ended. And even that time span is just a geological blip.

      The entire country is going to go crazy if the 1927 flood ever repeats itself.

      • I totally agree with those who say we should be careful about using the word “unprecepdented”….
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mississippi_Flood_of_1927

        “……..The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States,[1] with 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2) inundated up to a depth of 30 feet (9 m). To try to prevent future floods, the federal government built the world’s longest system of levees and floodways.

        Ninety-four percent of the more than 630,000 people affected by the flood lived in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, most in the Mississippi Delta. More than 200,000 African Americans were displaced from their homes along the Lower Mississippi River and had to live for lengthy periods in relief camps…….”

      • Depending on the source, there are 250 major river systems. Many will flood at the same time but on average, 1 in 1000 year events happens somewhere every 4 years.
        Or there are 600 areas of land the size of Texas that will experience a 1 in a 500 year event in one of those patches, on average, every year.
        Then there is the issue of not really knowing if it is really less common than a 1 in 100 year event.

      • CD in Wisconsin – I lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi as a teenager and I well remember the high water marker for the 1927 flood.

  3. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang was quoted on Twitter as saying… “This is the future of weather.” What knuckleheads. and they call themselves meteorologists?

    • Well, it is definitely the “Present” of weather. It is also, based on recorded history, the “past” of weather. I’m guessing it will happen again in the future so it it may be the future of weather (a hurricane every once in a while), but I’ll give anyone really good odds that it won’t happen again next month, next year, or before 2020.

      Any takers at the Washington Post?

      • Doesn’t hurricane activity follow a cyclical pattern? 20 years low activity, 20 years higher activity or some such thing?

      • @Rhoda R
        The Accumulated Cyclone Energy index goes back to only 1970. It’s really not enough time to make any definitive statements regarding patterns.

    • Well, weather like this has occurred in the present as well as the past, so there are many indications that it will continue into the future. What it is, is certainly not unprecedented.

    • “There is no aspect of global warming theory that says rain systems are going to be moving slower, as we are seeing in Texas.”

      The statement seems reasonable, however one mannish arlarmist has already predicted this behavior (retrospectively) based on his magic climate crystal ball.

      • No, blaming Trump is the new normal. It’s all because Trump pulled us out of the Paris Accord – that caused this whole weather disturbance we see in the Gulf and Atlantic this summer. We never had this kind of activity under Obama, after all. /s

      • Absolutely human caused. Clearly SUV s cause hurricanes to loiter in one place. There are EXACTLY a um um ??? zero peer review studies predicting this. Which us precisely why 97 percent of alarmists know it must be true.

      • Well I guess we could blame it on Bush too, heck through in Reagan for the set.

        All sarc if you didn’t know.

    • So, there’s no true to the rumor that Cheney was seen dancing around his Weather Machine, causing the high pressure dome that’s locking Harvey in place?

      Just asking for a friend…

      • There are many symbols of inevital doom but there are just as many pointing towards salvation. We as humans have closed our minds and soul to symbols. We here are trying something to wake up everyones mind to accept the fact that we are going extinct very soon, likely this lifetime if North Korea completes their mission. We are trying to create a soul. You only need one and man recieves theirs. It is the universal law.

      • No no, it’s Trump caught colluding with Cobra Commander for the use of his Weather Dominator.

    • Trump has mighty powers! But thus must mean Obama caused the massive humanitarian disaster in Syria as well as several devastating earthquakes, deadly Pacific tropical cyclones, and an aweful lot of really bad TV.

  4. Completely precedented. Mostly just a lot of rain and flooding. Bad but not unprecedented. Andrew was unprecedented. If you were an actual witness to what happened there, all other “normal” hurricanes are completely precedented. IMHO.

  5. Well, this is actually the future of weather, just as it is the past of weather. I have to ask one question of all these AGW believers who are convinced this is a horrible hurricane that was made worse by AGW. One question.

    One. Question. Please, could a member of the 97% answer this simple question from little ol’ me.

    What constitutes the baseline behavior of hurricanes?

  6. Anything to further the narrative of AGW is fair game and truth has nothing to do with it. Just put the false message in front of the people and their job is done.

  7. I’m sure many of you want to know what Michael Mann has to say about this. He has commented on this on his FaceBook page. I will paste it here since many here might not be able to access it on Facebook:

    “What can we say about the role of climate change in the unprecedented disaster that is unfolding in Houston with Hurricane #Harvey?

    There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding.

    Sea level rise attributable to climate change (some is due to coastal subsidence due to human disturbance e.g. oil drilling) is more than half a foot over the past few decades (see http://www.insurancejournal.com/…/sou…/2017/05/31/452704.htm for a decent discussion).
    That means that the storm surge was a half foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.

    In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades, from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31 C or 87-88F). There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the “Clausius-Clapeyron equation (see e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Clausius%E2%80%93Clapeyron_relat…) that tells us there is a roughly 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C (~1F) of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than the ‘average’ temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5% more moisture in the atmosphere.

    That large amount of moisture meant the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding.

    The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.

    Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean warming not just the surface but creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.

    So Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human- caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage, and a larger storm surge (as an example of how this works, we have shown that climate change has led to a dramatic increase in storm surge risk in New York City, making devastating events like Superstorm #Sandy more likely (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/41/12610.full).

    Finally, the more tenuous but potentially relevant climate factors: part of what has made Harvey such a devastating storm is the way it has stalled right near the coast, continuing to pummel Houston and surrounding regions with a seemingly endless deluge which will likely top out at nearly 4 feet of rainfall over a several days-long period before it is done.

    The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth like a top with no direction. This pattern, in turn, is associated with a greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the U.S. right now, with the jet stream pushed well to the north. This pattern of subtropical expansion is predicted in model simulations of human-caused climate change.

    More tenuous, but possibly relevant still, is the fact that very persistent, nearly ‘stationary’ summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favored by human-caused climate change. We recently published on this phenomenon: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep45242

    In conclusion, while we cannot say climate change “caused” hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say that it exacerbate several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life.

    Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

    • “..The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds which are failing to steer the storm off to sea…”

      Say what? The typical storm hitting Texas would continue over land, weakening but impacting weather to multiple states, not get “steered off to sea.” And if “steered off to sea,” then what? Strengthen in the Gulf, wreak havoc with another landfall, then “steered off to sea” again, and on-and-on?

      • Not to mention the high pressure area coming in from Canada that likely is impeding movement of the system.

      • Yes, a lot of places in the Houston – Galveston area subsided 10-20 feet over the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s from large scale fluid withdrawals.

    • Mann said: “So Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human- caused warming,”

      The only problem with this statement is noone, including Mann, can prove that humans have caused the atmosphere or the ocean to warm, even a little bit.

      They can point to a small local ocean warming here or there, but they can’t legitimately attribute that to humans in any way, shape, or form. It is more likely that any warming is caused by Mother Nature, not human beings. We should assume it is Mother Nature until proven otherwise.

      As Roy Spencer said, when low-pressure systems stall, you can get enourmous amounts of rain in one location, and when high-pressure systems stall you can get enormous temperature increases underneath them.

      The problem for alarmists is they have to demonstrate how humans caused Hurricane Harvey to stall over Houston, Texas, because that is the only reason for the heavy rains. They can’t do it because humans had nothing to do with steering the weather fronts and Harvey will be moving along shortly to drop rain on others.

    • “Finally, the more tenuous but potentially relevant climate factors: part of what has made Harvey such a devastating storm is the way it has stalled right near the coast, continuing to pummel Houston and surrounding regions with a seemingly endless deluge”

      The *only* relevant factor is that Hurricane Harvey stalled and dropped all its rain on Houston for days on end.

    • A better way to have formatted Mann’s long quote would have been to use the Blockquote tag.

    • Michael Mann is correct that a warmer ocean/atmosphere will hold more moisture. All other things being equal and you get more rain from a system that has more precipitable water. +3-5% seems to be a reasonably good guess by him based on the factors he mentioned.

      With regards to the weak prevailing winds from climate change being a factor. I’m sure that he is aware that weak prevailing winds are a factor period. You need them for a hurricane to form. The greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the US right now is not at all unusual as he states. He says its causing the jet stream to be pushed well to the north. As an operational meteorologist, I can state unequivocally that the current pattern does NOT feature a jet stream pushed unusually far north.

      This storm just got trapped under an area of very light upper level winds for longer than usual. Light to non existent upper level winds in Texas at this time of year often persist for many days. It is very normal. In this case, those very light winds coincided with the remnants of Harvey………………similar to TS Claudette in July 1979 which dumped 43 inches of rain in 24 hours in Southeast TX.
      When was the last time that you saw a strong hurricane develop without weak prevailing winds? It’s a prerequisite. Strong prevailing winds will rip a hurricane/tropical system apart. Very light upper level steering currents are strongly associated with most hurricanes but those steering winds often increase and pick up the remnants within a day or 2 or 3. Sometimes these systems move faster, sometimes slower. No climate change here. Man caused or otherwise. It’s been that way for thousands of years. .

      He sites a paper that he published on weather anomalies in the extratropical zones that get locked in place for many days…..with the discussion focusing on mid and high latitude weather/temperatures/droughts and westerlies(jet stream) but not tropical systems that would make it relevant to this particular case.

      On the sea level increase of over half a foot in the past few decades because of climate change. Based on the assumption that climate change means “human caused” climate change, this is very disingenuous. (he does mention that subsidence is part of this)

      A source/graph that he shows has sea levels rising……… for the past 2,000 years. If by the past few decades, he means 30 years and by half a foot, he means 6 inches, to suggest that human caused climate change is causing the rate of sea level increase to be at around 2 inches/decade is misleading.

      • Has global rainfall in fact increased 3 to 5 percent? If it had how much of that increase was harmful vs beneficial? How much was CO2 caused?

    • Climate change could mean cooling (change is + or -) negating Clausius and his mate Clapeyron; don’t you mean anguished catastrophic global warming.

    • Thank you for your thorough explanation of man-made climate change and the effect it has on the intensity of storms like Harvey or Sandy.

      • The industrial revolution started years before you were born. Early in the 1800s we have been pumping coal and other problem chemicals into the atmosphere. Vulcanoes dont help. Cars diesel even your fireplace gives off carbon dioxide. Our atmosphere is at its max. Does man care as long as he can breath today there really isnt a problem?? Do you all think this way??

      • Not sure what you mean – I am sure of the findings of 98% of the scientific community that agrees with your final statement, that man- made influences have caused these storms to be so destructive. I also am sure that this blog is funded by right wing funders who profit from polluting.

      • Correction industrial revolution started when coal was first burned. Since then we have been poluting the atmosphere. With no care.

      • “I am sure of the findings of 98% of the scientific community that agrees with your final statement, that man- made influences have caused these storms to be so destructive. I also am sure that this blog is funded by right wing funders who profit from polluting.”

        Those are common delusion among alarmists.

        The “98 percent” consensus you use is a gross distortion of the facts. There is no evidence human-produced CO2 has added any net heat to either the atmosphere or the oceans. And the last statement is laughable.

      • Laughable? Have you read the evidence by credible sources against you on the web? No one is entitled to their own “facts”.

      • “Laughable? Have you read the evidence by credible sources against you on the web? No one is entitled to their own “facts”.”

        Well, as a matter of fact, I have read all the “evidence” and it doesn’t look like evidence to me. I am entitled to be given evidence that some claim is valid, especially if those making the claim want me to give them money. I’m not buying a “pig in a poke”. You shouldn’t either.

        The bottom line is there is not a person on this planet that can prove that humans have caused any net increase in heat in either the atmosphere or the oceans by burning fossil fuels. You are invited to prove that statement wrong, if you can.

      • North pole has been on average warmer than southern ontario this past summer. Where is the ice? South pole is melting. Greenland is almost ice free. Alps are melting. If you do not follow the truth. It will be away too late when you are then faced with extinction . Your ego is sounding like a godman complex just as carl jung predicted..totally insane

    • “More tenuous, but possibly relevant still, is the fact that very persistent, nearly ‘stationary’ summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favored by human-caused climate change.”

      It is unsupportable as rising GHG’s are modeled to increase positive NAO/AO which would reduce the meridional pattern and give a more northerly and zonal atmospheric circulation pattern.
      http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch10s10-3-5-6.html

  8. Pavement, it just tends to make floods worse. In 1950 Houston had zero miles of paved freeways, expressways, or major trunk lines, and only a couple thousand miles of paved surface streets.

    In 2017 Houston has 576 miles of paved freeways, expressways, and major trunk lines, I can’t get a good read on paved surface streets, but eye-balling it from some old aerial photos and from Google Earth I’d guess it’s 3-4 times the area it was in 1960.

    • In 1935 they probably depended on the bayous to drain flood waters. After 1935 they have built extensive flood control infrastructure, and flood causing infrastructure. After tropical storm Allison, Senator Hutchinson arranged a huge amount of spending on flood control infrastructure for Houston’s hospital district. While it was being constructed, we used to watch tractors drive into the drain tubes. So basically, to make a claim, you have account for infrastructure of all kinds, and I see none.

  9. Unprecedented is the new lexicon for all things weather and climate so changing it now would be unprecedented. All caps and exclamation marks must also be adhered to also.

    • “Unprecedented”
      Its meaning for the illiterate and innumerate has shifted from “not in my (short, befuddled) lifetime, to merely “outside my (brief, short) attention span”

  10. “Climate change – that’s what climate dose.” Climate change also worsened the Little Ice Age. And the big one too. A lot of prime beachfront properties were lost when sea level rose over 400 feet in 6,000 years. Climate change giveth; climate change taketh away.

  11. This morning on NHR (National Hysteria Radio), they referred to it as a thousand-year event. Thousand is the new 500 I guess.

  12. This map shows subsidence in the Houston area since 1920 mainly due to acquifer depletion..

    The blues in this map are 12 feet. Yes, that’s right, 12 feet. The reds are a few inches.

    • Thanks!!

      It makes you wonder if subsidence is even considered in the flood hazard maps…

      WSJ today
      “More bad news for Houston: Many of the homes and businesses that have been inundated by Hurricane Harvey aren’t insured for flooding.

      Data provider CoreLogic says that 52% of the residential and commercial properties in Houston that are at high or moderate risk of flooding due to Hurricane Harvey are not in federally designated flood zones.

      Most residential flood insurance is provided by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which also insures some businesses.

      Federal flood maps are generally used to determine which property owners need to buy flood insurance. Homeowners in flood zones, for example, are required to maintain the coverage by their mortgage companies.”

      • Unfortunately, under Obama, national flood insurance became another source for monies for him to distribute to cronies and such. I am informed that my flood insurance will increase by 25% a year from now on. the cause: a one time culvert blockage that allowed water to get in the crawlspace. What a racket! No claim was filed.

      • Wayne,
        Let me know where you are and I can probably fix it … or help you fix it.

        Cost usually between 1000 & 500$, but sometimes I feel bad enough about the regulatory crap that I do freebies….
        And a lot of the times a person could it themselves.

        (although when there is a significant cost payback is only a few years)

  13. I have another question for ‘the consensus’: If AGW is responsible for the unprecedented severity of Harvey, does it not follow the AGW is also responsible for the 12 year US major hurricane drought? Of course we have been told decades that CO2 induced warming can only cause bad things and any positive weather is just a result of inherent natural variability.

  14. Good luck to all you Texans. I know you are going to come through this bigger and better, but it sure is hell getting from here to there sometimes. Hang in there. We are all pulling for you.

    It looks like Texans are getting a lot of help from fellow Texans. I was almost reminded of scenes from the movie Dunkirk, watching all the rescue boats.

    I guess at this time we really don’t know how many Texans are in serious danger. I guess this will clarify itself soon.

    Horrible. Horrible.

  15. Clearly, landfills from garbage disposal are not yet high enough.
    Perhaps future ones could be strategically placed to assist drainage.
    Written at 250 feet above sea level, plus 17 floors, in Vancouver. On a bluff comprising good old glacial till. very solid.

    • Written at 250 feet above sea level, plus 17 floors, in Vancouver. On a bluff comprising good old glacial till. very solid.

      But much closer to the top of the hill where the volcanoes and mudslide/gas and rock slides from earthquakes and rainfalls come down than Houston. In Houston, the water slowly comes up the driveway. Near the Cascade Mountains, the whole mountain quickly slide down the what’s left of the hill. 8<)

  16. If the warmists and climate doomsayers like Mann are correct in saying that extreme weather events will become the norm , and that the southern states of the USA are in particular danger from them , then surely they realise that it makes Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Accord not only laudable , but absolutely essential for the well being of a large part of the population of the US .
    Integral to the Paris agreement is the mandate to take enormous sums of money from the US taxpayers (and those of the UK) , including from those who will be desperately needing it right now, and sending it off to barely accountable organisations and politicians abroad, where , given the industrial ambitions of India, China and Africa , it will have absolutely no effect on emission levels.
    If this sort of incident is to become more common then it it is even more important that money raised in the US be used to help the damaged and needy in the US . I cannot believe any creditable US politician would argue otherwise.
    The same could be said of the UK , but we in the UK have been so brainwashed into accepting the need to send 10s of billions of foreign aid abroad annually whilst our hospitals , colleges and infrastructure decay that rational discussion about spending hard-earned British cash on the poor and needy of Britain will never be allowed to take place. Hopefully the same is not true in the Land of the Brave.

    • It’s only as good as the soil/material beneath it. Useless for large storms that have saturated it. Intended as a small storm water quality measure. Our state gives little credit for its use in SWM.
      Unfortunately, the only way to do flood control is with a reservoir of some sort. No free lunch in drainage.

  17. A few years ago, the Great Lakes were “going dry” (i.e. a lower than average winter-spring precipitation led to a lower than average water level – who knew?)

    APOCALYPSE!!! The models are right! This is the “new” normal, its climate change, doncha know.

    Yes, the large ships they call “lakers” would get stuck, they’d have to dredge the channels, pleasure boaters were worried as they docks were high and dry. The horror, the horror…

    Fast forward to 2017. Higher than average winter-spring precipitation led to a higher than average water level – who knew?

    APOCALYPSE!!! The models are right! This is the “new” normal, its climate change, doncha know.

    Repeat as needed.

    (BTW, if you ever want to get banned from a radio call in show, point out the fact that a model that predicts more precipitation automatically countenances those models that say the opposite. Just sayin’.)

  18. I used to live in Houston and still own multiple properties there. Always paid very close attention to flood plane maps when buying property. Never had one flood yet.

  19. Not to minimize this current tragedy, but the Galveston hurricane in 1900 claimed between 6,000 and 12,000 lives, according to what I have read. So far this week the number of deaths has been relatively very small (fewer than 10 so far) apparently. That number will likely rise sadly.

  20. Joe Bastardi, Weatherbell.com, makes the case that storms are named much earlier today than in the past. One reason is prior to satellites many storms at sea remained undetected or undocumented. But another reason has been a recent inclination by NHC to name storms too early. Hence why they ran out of names one recent year.

    • I thought the same when reflecting that Gilbert was, IIRC, in September, yet here we are already with and H-storm in August.

      • Not to mention Katrina in August 2005.

        Some years are indeed more active, of course, but a lot of it stems from naming tropical storms out to sea which will never come ashore and probably won’t form hurricanes.

      • How long before they start naming hurricanes in the US “cyclones” just because is sounds different?

  21. I visited Galverston a few years back, just the romantic in me. I can understand why everyone died in 1900. It’s nothing more than a town on a sand bar.

    • My thanks,too. And, also, to the others who have posted so much useful information on this thread.

  22. May I suggest exploring this link:
    https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=hgx
    Click on a gauge site and look for the historic levels on the left.

    I do not in anyway mean to dismiss what those in the area are experiencing now. It’s bad.
    It’s made worse because it is impacting more people.
    But the levels are not “unprecedented”.

    In other words, the weather event itself is not “unprecedented” because of a coal plant in West Virginia.

  23. I visited friends in Houston back in the late 70s. One afternoon they took me to a smart new mall with a Nieman Marcus store. While we were there, there was a a short but heavy shower of rain, the road outside flooded and when we tried to leave we could not get out for about 15 minutes. At the time, I was astonished that a city that sent men to the moon had a transport infrastructure that could not cope with routine rainfall. Then I saw the number of creeks and bayous in the city, and the rice fields around it, and wondered how they managed to drain it at all. I’m surprised that it doesn’t flood more often.

    • They built up the city without enough levees in place. Those bayous are accidents waiting to happen.

  24. I completely disagree.
    Since 1650 the Ocean temperatures have risen. This was do to a more active Sun.
    This is Climate Change,
    BUT “Natural, caused by the Sun”.

    The Oceans are the warmest since measurements commenced.
    BUT, only a very small percentage, say 5%, is caused by CO2.

    Follow this simple formula:
    Strength of Hurricane Winds [in category] = (Ocean temperature – 80F)/3

    BUT, something new has happened.
    Solar EUV, UV has plummeted since 2000. We are now in a Solar Minimum.
    Solar EUV, UV is a great proxy for Energy reaching the Earth’s Surface.
    Easily measured by the 10.7cm Flux. (see Penticton. CA)

    This means hot oceans, cold lands. The result will be enormous amounts of moisture transferred from the oceans to the land!

    IT WILL GET WORSE…

  25. In the aftermath of Sandy there was some discussion about installing water-resistant doors in office buildings. I wonder if such doors could be retrofitted to homes and businesses in vulnerable areas and/or mandated by local building codes for future construction.

    Similarly, I wonder if water-resistant shutters would be feasible technically and could be retrofitted to vulnerable structures and/or required for future ones.

    I also wonder if water would seep in elsewhere anyway, and if it would do so in damaging amounts. There’s something the EPA could research and maybe fund product development.

    • Roger, wood frame construction has, and needs, vents in the walls. Those would admit water that rose above the wall vent level. True masonry structures, perhaps, and steel frame or concrete construction again perhaps.

      • Masonry structures need drains to let water drain from between wythes of brick. Masonry also cracks. Masonry structures would not be reliably water tight in a flood either.

      • There aren’t any explicit wall vents in wood frame houses that I’m aware of. None in any I’ve seen, including the one I’m living in.

      • I have only lived, and done construction in, Northern California and South Central Texas. Everything built since WWII has had wall vents, while older, less tight construction did not have them (almost nothing in my areas of work was built in the 1930’s). Unvented frame construction will mildew or dry-rot with tight building paper.

      • If those vents are three feet high, then sealing the doors would protect the house against most flooding. Rises above three feet, such as what’s happening in Houston to low-lying structures, aren’t common.

    • I also wonder if water would seep in elsewhere anyway…”

      The slightest crack. Used to happen to my Mom’s basement in any heavy, or prolonged rain.
      And she was on high ground.

      • But seepage would be more tolerable than flooding, if only a few inches of water got in. It could be sucked out a couple of days later after most hurricanes.

    • I had a residence near the ocean that I sold just before Andrew. I had installed new doors that had a “refrigerator” seal on them. I went back to take a look afterwards out of curiosity. The water mark was about waist high on the outside, but there did not seem to be any flooding inside. I think it made a difference.

    • Well, when they rebuild, they should note the high water mark from this flood and build just a little higher than that next time.

      Or better yet, they should study the historical record and build a little higher than the highest flood they can find. I think Roy Spencer mentioned that one flood in Houston in the past was some 16 feet higher than this one.

      • TA, yours is the BEST post in this whole thread of over 80.

        I wish someone would put it where all Texans and, in fact, every reader could learn the most valuable lesson of a lifetime.

  26. “I remember many years ago in one of the NWS annual summaries of lightning deaths there was a golfer who was struck by lightning. While an ambulance transported the man to the hospital, the ambulance was stuck by lightning and it finished the poor fellow off.”

    That sure makes one wonder it’s possible to seriously piss off the ones in charge.

  27. Houston is in serious need of flood control infrastructure. Obviously not enough large enough levees in the right places, insufficient bypasses, pumps, etc.

    • We’re less than 200 ft above sea level so there’s not a lot of places to move it. You’re talking about an area larger (inside the middle loop alone) larger than Rhode Island. Approx 100,000 people move here every year. I live over 100 miles from the coast, yet am only 130′ above sea level. There is virtually no natural slope. The entire county received over 25″ of rain in virtually every spot in the county. Not in a few. In every single spot that measures rainfall. Many have received over 40″ in less than a week. https://www.harriscountyfws.org/

  28. Houston was home for almost 30 years. It was a great place to work and raise a family. We left 12 years ago. It has always had disasters and will always be a disaster waiting to happen. Somehow though it always comes back.

  29. When I worked in seismic processing about 30 years ago my old boss, a veteran of the oil business, once said ‘they spoiled a good swamp when they built Houston’. But he was not a Texan…

  30. Houston specifies sizing the storm water system to handle a 2 year event. Allowed ponding at the high point of the road is 6″ allowed ponding at the low point is 18″. Both measurements are above the top of curb In the event of anything over the 2 year event the roads are designed to cascade to the outfall. See chapter 9 of the COHIDM Pages 9-10 and 9-17.
    I would rather drive on roads than have them storm water conveyance, however under ideal conditions the hydraulic grade of the 100 year event can be contained in the 2 year system
    Infrastructure Design Manual
    https://edocs.publicworks.houstontx.gov/documents/design_manuals/idm.pdf

  31. Clearly that is a dry flood brought on by cold warm, wind calm, day night and snow rain. Did I cover all options?

  32. The north pole at 8pm was17 degrees Celsius. 1 degree above listowels temperature. This whole summer has been warmer at the north pole than anywhere in southern ontario canada. Wow you discuss hustons flooding?

  33. We are going thru some of the worst flooding that our city has endured in such a long time and you wrote an article saying that there’s nothing to see here! There’s not even a reference to all the destruction or the suffering that people are enduring in this moment. As far as I know the warmer the waters in the gulf coast, the more energy a hurricane could carry. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can carry as well. All of those are symptoms of climate change.

    You have to factor in the effect of warmer temperatures, but you fail to do that, why? Because you’re bent on proving your point that climate change has nothing to do with it.

    It’s going to get more and more difficult to continue the nefarious effects of climate change. We can count on you to continue to deny it, regardless of the loss of property and human life. You’re making it more difficult for us, as a society, to start doing the right thing to combat climate change.

    • Its not “nothing to see here”, but that the flooding is not a new phenomenon. The flood in 1934 was worse, but Houston was much smaller, and anyone who remembers it is probably in a nursing home. Ignorance of history is a mark of zealots, and their arguments.

    • Climate Change did not cause the flooding. In an unusual circumstance the storm stalled just inland and started to pump the Gulf of Mexico into inland Texas. That unusual storm pattern caused the massive flooding. The lack of Climate Change (1°C per century or about 0.01°C per year) would not have made a measurable difference in the flooding. There is no claimed mechanism within Climate Science that purports to cause a Hurricane to stall just inland as a result of Climate Change. I cannot imagine what you are going through and hope for a quick end to the flooding.

      • J Mac made the following comment on another thread:

        In October 1963, hurricane Flora stalled over Cuba and dropped 100 inches of rain over Santiago de Cuba! (info from WeatherBell) These ‘extreme’ rainfalls from stalled hurricanes/tropical storms are not unprecedented’. This is what nature does…..

        Warming attributed to mankind supposedly only started after WW2. In 1963 the earth was still cooling and continued to cool for another 10 years or so, yet the rain that fell was twice that in Texas. Hard to blame Climate Change for that.

    • “As far as I know the warmer the waters in the gulf coast, the more energy a hurricane could carry. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can carry as well. All of those are symptoms of climate change.”

      No, they are not symtoms of climate change.

      The Gulf may be slightly warmer, and that would fuel a hurricane, but the Gulf has been warmer before and fueled much more powerful hurricanes in the past than Harvey, and the bottom line is there is NO evidence that humans have increased the temperature of the oceans through CO2 production. Mother Nature is directing this show.

      What happened with Harvey has happened before with no need for input from CO2 or human beings.

      The fairly unique thing about Harvey was that it was trapped by the alignment of the weather patterns into sitting over one place for a week straight. Any time a low-pressure system like this stops or stalls, it is going to drown everything underneath it.

      Had Harvey moved at the same speed as Katrina, it would have been out of Houston within two days and the flooding would not be nearly as bad as it is.

      Hurrican Harvey is a tremendous rainmaker, but it has nothing to to with human-caused CO2. Anyone who says it does should provide some proof of their claim. Don’t bother. I know there is no evidence. And don’t give me that “97 percent” BS, either.

  34. From the weather Channel,

    Rainfall Totals
    
    Here are the latest rainfall totals through 10 p.m. CDT Monday, all in Texas unless otherwise specified:
    
        39.72 inches near Dayton
        36.34 inches near First Colony
        35.15 inches near Pasadena
        34.90 inches near Waller
        34.39 inches near Baytown
        34.30 inches Mission Bend
        33.96 inches near League City
        33.65 inches in Jacinto City
        30.32 inches in South Houston
        29.17 inches near Richmond
        27.69 inches at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport
        25.16 inches in Sugarland
        21.70 inches at Houston Hobby Airport
        21.88 inches in Smithville
        19.64 inches in College Station
        12.33 inches near Hackberry, Louisiana
        10.85 inches in Galveston
        10.07 inches at Austin's Robert Mueller Municipal Airport
        9.65 inches south-southwest of Lake Charles, Louisiana
        9.37 inches near Victoria
        3.82 inches near Corpus Christi
    

    Notice that the Austin and Corpus stations are several hundred miles from Houston – equal to several states (countries) away up in the Northeast, Europe, or parts of Asia. My dad (Katy, west of Houston downtown by many kilometers) emptied his 6″ rain gauge 4x times (24 inches known rainfall), but estimates it overflowed several times. Been 12 hours since he was at that location, so totals are unknown out there. More than 28 inches best estimate.

    The College Station drainage area (Brazos River) collects a long irregular 80-120 mile x 600 mile area (44,788 mi²) that is northwest of Houston. The Colorado River drains an additional 39,000 sq miles area of TX that will head also head towards Houston, hitting the coast at Bay City TX – slightly south of Houston near the large power plant down there. The Trinity River drains the area north of Houston – It’s flooding also, but is north of Houston – and so not as severely. So far.

    ALL of that rain is going to hit Beaumont-Baytown, Houston, Texaas City, Sugarland, Bay City, Rockport and points south in the next 2-3 days. Look at a map of the refineries, then start calculating gas prices for the next few weeks.

    (Buy Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, and Wal-Mart.

  35. I would like to send/email a copy of this post to the BBC Today programme who insist via some bogus professor from Reading University that man made globing warming is indeed the reason for the flooding in Houston. He reasoned that the predictions (from woefully inadequate computer models) of a 6 deg rise in global temperatures would lead to a doubling of the water vapour in the atmosphere; even though it hasn’t happened yet. Future predictions including Al Gore’s crap new film are being blatantly used by the BBC to explain current events without fear of contradiction
    Is it possible to email this post as an attachment?

    • Hurricane season is underway. This happens every year. Global warming can only effect the strength and duration. The amount of rainfall as well. Each storm has characteristics that seem normal. But look at the abnormaties of each
      This could be from warming waters. The great barrier reef now is all algae. The water there is only a few degrees warmer than normal. Took millions of years to develop. How long did it take to destroy??

  36. Another day has passed and now this article becomes even more inaccurate. Comparing water height levels at specific locations 80 years apart isn’t science, but instead, an attempt to prove a position. Hidden behind your article is a generous dose of climate change denial. Luckily, Texas is filled with like-minded people who will now expect the rest of us to bail them out.

  37. Interestingly, I cannot quickly find the construction dates for the Addicks and Barkerr dams, but since the original approval came in 1938 and you’re referencing events from 1935, I find yet another flaw in your reasoning. Having said that paved structures are calculated as having a very low infiltration-obviously, as are homes at basically 0. Obviously, infiltration has been reduced by population growth. As well, the entire infrastructure of Houston now is not comparable now with 1935. Since both dams are now at capacity, you may be seeing water levels of the past.

    Meanwhile, I couldn’t miss the fact that the good doctor has been working for the energy industry for some time now. It reminds me of the old saying, “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

  38. Michael Mann “Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean warming not just the surface but creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.”

    Is this a correct statement or not?Seems perfectly logical .Waters warm in Hawaii cold in San Francisco.
    Does air temp raise water temp?

  39. Are the rainfall totals unprecedented?

    yes, in the mainland US they are.

    And it isn’t entirely about the flooding here – the built up area and flood controls ahve changed since 36 – but it is about the amount/intensity of rain.

    That is unprecedented in Texas…

    …and a clear sign of a warming climate

    • “…in Texas…
      …and a clear sign of a warming climate”

      But Texas has been cooling, (over the total period of record 1895-2016)

    • “That is unprecedented in Texas…

      …and a clear sign of a warming climate”

      Even more demonstrable lies, Skanky?

      You just can’t help yourself, can you?

      Have you apologised to Dr. Crockford for lying about her professional credentials yet?

  40. or a clear sign of overly large human saturation all in one area and 500+ miles of paved roads and housing development etc just might have a wee bit of impact on how the dirt absorbs the rain fall… much the same with AZ and NM hotter there from the same reasons stated above = the suns heat isnt absorbed into the dirt/ sand and bouncing it back up making it hotter.

  41. As a point of interest, I responded, with many of Roy’s clarifications along with several others, to an alarmist article by Michael Mann on his Facebook page. He must have been impressed as within hours I was banned from his site and my comment remove.
    This is the first time I’ve ever been banned from anywhere (other than the girls’ shower room when I was very young) ;-)

    • According to this page, Buffalo Bayou topped out at 38.78 feet at 7:30 AM CDT on Aug 28, although the data is subject to revision. Much lower than the 1935 flood.

  42. Per ERSSTv5, northern gulf warmed +0.2C since 1950. Also SST cooled by hurricane prior to TS rain. AGW signal likely doesn’t exceed noise in Houston flooding.

  43. Let me pose counter evidence that posits that Hurricane Harvey is directly linked to climate change:

    BBC: Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change
    http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41082668

    Time: Is Hurricane Harvey Related to Climate Change? Scientists Have a Better Answer
    http://time.com/4914840/hurricane-harvey-climate-change/

    The Washington Post: What does Hurricane Harvey say about climate change?
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2017/live-updates/weather/hurricane-harvey-updates-preparation-evacuations-forecast-storm-latest/what-does-hurricane-harvey-say-about-climate-change/?tid=ss_fb&utm_term=.da57fbb8e962

    New York Times: The Relationship Between Hurricanes and Climate Change

    LA Times editorial: Harvey should be a warning to Trump that climate change is a global threat
    http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-harvey-global-warming-trump-flood-20170830-story.html

  44. “We raised up everything,” said Susan Rath, who had returned to a home in south Houston where she and her husband, Jim, had tried to place valuables higher before evacuating. The water got higher still. They returned to sodden drywall, destroyed furniture and a closet full of blouses soaked up to the elbow.
    “It didn’t matter,” she said. The Raths had just rebuilt this house, after it was destroyed in a 2015 flood. Now, they will have to decide whether to rebuild again.

    How dumb is this???

  45. Are you familiar with the definition of insanity?
    It’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
    Jackpot!
    Now move out of a historical flood zone.

  46. This is a futile attempt to fill the gaps of reason; a feeble attempt by the author to find internal equilibrium as he struggles to marry his brewing concern – that climate change might actually be real – with all his other values and beliefs (beliefs instilled in him by the very system by which he was raised and which created climate change in the first place).

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