Michael Wehner & Christopher Sampson

Climatic Change

Published date May 19, 2021

Attributable human-induced changes in the magnitude of flooding in the Houston, Texas region during Hurricane Harvey

Study key findings & significance

  • The extreme rainfall brought by Hurricane Harvey increased the flooded area in the Greater Houston area by 14%

Author quotes

“Our best estimate is that climate change increased the cost of Hurricane Harvey by about 14% or US$13Bn”. Sampson & Wehner


The human influence on precipitation during tropical cyclones due to the global warming is now well documented in the literature. Several studies have found increases in Hurricane Harvey’s total precipitation over the Greater Houston area ranging from the Clausius-Clapeyron limit of 7% to as much as 38% locally. Here we use a hydraulic model to translate these attribution statements about precipitation to statements about the resultant flooding and associated damages. We find that while the attributable increase in the total volume of flood waters is the same as the attributable increase in precipitation, the attributable increase in the total area of the flood is less. However, we also find that in the most heavily flooded parts of Houston, the local attributable increases in flood area and volume are substantially larger than the increase in total precipitation. The results of this storyline attribution analysis of the Houston flood area are used to make an intuitive best estimate of the cost of Hurricane Harvey attributable to anthropogenic global warming as thirteen billion US dollars.