A claim often made by climate change alarmists is that human activity creates more greenhouse gasses, which makes climate change worse, increasing the intensity and damage when hurricanes make landfall. Human activity does play a role, but not in the way most people think it does. The human activity that increases storm damage comes from urban development, poor zoning decisions, insufficient drainage, and flood insurance subsidies.
Humans like living in costal areas, costal areas allow ports to be built which increases trade, and allows wealth to be built. Additionally humans like to live in places close to nature with picturesque views, waterfront real estate always has a higher price tag than non-waterfront real estate. However this waterfront property has the downside, of higher risk of flooding. When you buy a home, condominium, or other property the mortgage process includes checking the flood zone of the property. Depending on the risk level, you may be required to secure flood insurance, before the bank will give you a mortgage. The flood zone, looks at historical flood data, proximity to water, elevation of the land, and elevation of the house. Flood insurance looks at the risk of flooding, and the price of the house, it can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars a year. If a local government wants to stimulate growth in an area, they will offer subsidies to insurance companies, to reduce the insurance premiums of new construction. These lower, subsidized flood insurance rates, create a lower sense of risk in the minds of new homeowners as these subsidies usually aren’t disclosed. The local governments are just looking at the increased tax revenue generated by waterfront property.
Developers who build new communities are always looking to maximize their investment with luxury or higher priced houses. Since waterfront development is more desirable, it has a higher selling price, which means more profit for the developer. The problem is you can’t create new waterfront property, and all of the good areas are already developed. The only undeveloped waterfront property are the areas that were deemed too high risk in the past. Greed is a powerful motivator, and if a developer has the right connections, and knows how to “lubricate the wheels of progress” with local governments and zoning boards, they can get permission to build new construction in those areas previously deemed too high risk. The people buying homes in these areas that were previously seen as too high risk are usually completely unaware of what has happened, and the flood dangers they may have to deal with. A real world example of this occurred in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area.
The Houston area had been undergoing a massive 40 year expansion, whit new urban skyscrapers, suburban housing, and the accompanying infrastructure and roads required to support this growth. However local government, zoning and developers didn’t concern themselves with implementing a drainage plan that accounted for all this new development. In 2013 an extremely detailed 230 page report (PDF ) was produced that highlighted some of the problems of this urban development. On page 23 it mentions how the large amount of development is creating a “heat island”:
Paved surfaces and concrete absorb rays from the sun and produce heat. Chemicals emitted by cars, built structures and even trees can trap sun in urban areas and produce more heat. Heated air rises, and then collides with moist air from nearby bodies of water – which usually releases rain precipitation somewhere downwind from the heat island. This warm air and precipitation can affect winds and weather patterns for hundreds of miles surrounding an urban heat island.
It also mentions how the high amount of pavement creates poor drainage conditions:
This measures the amount of surfaces within the City that allow for stormwater to percolate and absorb into the ground versus surfaces that are impenetrable to stormwater. A low impervious/pervious cover ratio, on a scale from one to ten, indicates a lack of permeable surfaces. For example, an area having an average impervious/pervious coverage ratio per acre of less than two will be characterized by more trees and vegetation and less concrete, whereas an area having an average impervious/pervious coverage ratio per acre of greater than five would be characterized by high levels of pavement.
High amounts of pavement increases the likelihood of flooding during rain events because there is no grass, soil or vegetation to capture stormwater runoff moving over streets, parking lots, sidewalks, etc. Low impact development (LID) techniques such as pervious paving, rainwater cisterns, bioswales and rain gardens can help to offset this flooding…
Local governments largely ignored the drainage problems, and continued on doing business as usual. In December of 2016 ProPublica Documented the drainage problem by reviewing the events from Hurricane Rita in 2005. It highlighted how the local government prioritized growth over environmental impact, and allowed developers to use land they never should have been allowed to use:
As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes.
A few weeks later the Houston Chronicle published a story highlighting the drainage problem, they said:
Over the past 40 years, rainfall in the Brays Bayou watershed has increased by 26 percent, according to Rice University hydrologist Phil Bedient. In the same time, runoff has skyrocketed by 204 percent. Only massive, proactive plans for water detention and widening waterways will accommodate this horizontal waterfall that we’ve built without regard for hydrology…
In layman’s terms, developers had paved over land that was critical to the natural drainage of the area. Instead of the water draining away into the soil, it was being collected in a local watershed. In 2017 Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area and dropped over 50 inches of rain, completely overloading the drainage system of the area. When a hurricane brings 50 inches of rain, there is going to be flooding. However if a city has done proper planning, and has a storm or surge drainage system in place, the amount of flooding damage can be minimized. The city of Chicago is largely built on swamp land, combined with the rivers this means the area has a high water table, and is extremely prone to flooding during storms. To deal with this problem the city has an advanced drainage system that can handle 17.5 billion gallons of stormwater. So it is possible to have a fully developed metropolitan city, and handle the environmental impact of that development, if local governments step up and do their job.
Another interesting research paper about Hurricane Harvey and the impact of skyscrapers on hurricanes (PDF ) was published in late 2018. The report stated:
Researchers found that Houston’s urban landscape directly contributed to the torrential rainfall and deadly flooding of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Houston’s risk for extreme flooding was 21 times greater due to urbanization. The results highlight the human role in extreme weather events and the need to consider urban and suburban development when calculating hurricane risk…
Particularly interesting, were the findings about skyscrapers:
When Hurricane Harvey blew into Houston, it literally got snagged on the city’s tall skyscrapers and towers, said Gabriele Villarini, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of IIHR. The friction caused by high winds buffeting tall buildings created a drag effect that influenced air and heat movement and resulted in optimal conditions for precipitation….
The study of how building design affects the wind during tropical storms and hurricanes, is some bleeding edge science that we really don’t fully understand yet, and isn’t something that anyone is really doing today.
Climate alarmists like to claim that humans are making hurricanes worse, which really isn’t true. Human activity can make the effects of a hurricane worse, with poor urban planning and development decisions, but they aren’t making the hurricanes stronger. The majority of the damage from Hurricane Harvey was the result of developers and local government ignoring the warnings about having an undersized drainage system, not from increased greenhouse gasses. You should also read
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One of the most important life lessons you can learn is that Main Stream Media has no problem using deceptive coverage of a news event to push an agenda they agree with. This is especially true of their coverage tropical storms, hurricanes, and flooding which is used to make you believe the climate change agenda. In this article we'll show you proof of how they are lying to you, see How Main Stream Media Exaggerates Hurricane Coverage How Main Stream Media Exaggerates Hurricane Coverage.
EDITORS NOTE: The author of this article has first hand experience with how poor planning by a local government can cause flooding, when Superstorm Sandy put 18″ of water in their living room. The flooding wasn’t created by rising sea level or storm surge, but the amount of rain overloading the sewer system, causing it to backup and overflow. The houses in the area closest to the low point in the sewer system received the most damage, as you moved away from the low point, the damage decreased. There were houses closer to the water, but further from the low point in the sewer system, that had no flood damage at all. Human activity from greenhouse gases wasn’t responsible for the damage, poor drainage planning by the local government was the cause.