5 Weather Things to Know This Week

HOUSTON - 1) Fall arrives this Friday at 3:02pm. While the season changes our weather pattern will not. Heat, humidity and hit-or-miss showers will continue all week. Ironically, considering all the rain we got from Harvey, our grass and gardens in the non-flood zones are ready for a drink. It's hard not to feel weird watering the lawn after Harvey!

2) First measurable rain in 20 days possible today. If it does indeed, rain at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport, it'll be the first time since the end of August. 

3) Hurricane Maria to become a major hurricane and directly hit Puerto Rico with winds over 140mph. No doubt, when this happens midweek the area will experience similar impacts seen in the Florida Keys with Irma. This is the 3rd major hurricane for the northeast Caribbean this year! There is no threat to Houston.

4) There are now politics regarding the nature of this hurricane season, per its intensity. Global warming is real but the extreme character of Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria were not due exclusively to a warmer planet. They were going to happen regardless of whether it was 1917 or 2017. One of NOAA's leading National Hurricane Center meteorologists, Dr. Chris Landsea, says with the level of global warming observed today, tropical systems have probably strengthened around 1% of what they'd be prior to this latest round of climate change on Earth. (Our climate has always changed throughout the epics.) A 185mph Irma would have only reached around 183 mph in a non-global-warming world. It still would have been a devastating Cat 5... Extrapolating that 1% increase in intensity to precipitation, Harvey would have dumped 39.6" of rain instead of 40"... Yes, still a huge flood.)

Of interest, Dr. Landsea, who is a leading researcher on how global warming affects tropical systems, says that by the end of this century as we approach 2100, an even warmer world will make tropical systems about 3% stronger. That's measurable, but pretty subtle and mostly falls within the statistical standard deviation for intensity so it would be tough to point at a system and say, "global warming!" -- even 80+yrs from now.

In summary, global warming is real, but saying it magically pumped a Cat 1 into a monster Cat 5 is simply not true. NOAA's Dr. Landsea actually suggests in his research that by the end of this century, the frequency of hurricanes may decrease in a warmer climate due to increased vertical wind shear. Makes you think... 

5) Harvey was likely the most expensive natural disaster in US history, or one of the worst. But that's not because it was the worst storm to ever hit the coastline. It's because today there's more exposed property than ever before in coastal areas. (Meteorologically, Houston is considered a coastal area, even though we're an hour's drive to the beach.) Over the last generation, the population has flocked to the coast due to the growth of coastal cities and the overwhelming attraction people have to the water. (This boom in the last half century has also bee attributed to an invention making life sustainable for many people who wouldn't otherwise settle in a humid climate: air conditioning. Had Harvey's floods hit Houston between 1949-1989 (in the post-Addicks and Barker reservoir era when floods were controlled but there was still much less development) before the population boom in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, we'd only have see a sliver of the damage. That's because most of those neighborhoods on the west and northwest side near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, including Cinco Ranch east of 99, and the HWY 6 corridor, were farmland. That's also true for the Brazos river communities of Ft. Bend and Brazoria Counties. Now they're dense suburbs.This doesn't diminish the significance of Harvey as a meteorological event, but the monetary impact would have been much less had people not lived in areas where flooding was ultimately possible.

As I write this, major hurricane Maria is about to slam Puerto Rico and could then work through the Bahamas and maybe the southeast USA. Time will tell but we're not through with the hurricane season just yet. Thankfully, Houston is safe from all current threats in the tropics. Once we reach mid-October, our local season winds down, while the season for the Atlantic basin continues through November 30th. Only a month to go! (Long range forecasts suggest we could feel at least a rain threat from an early-October tropical gyre.) 

-Brooks
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