Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey surround homes in Port Arthur, Texas, Thursday, 31 August 2017. Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP

By Manuel Bojorquez
30 August 2017

HOUSTON (CBS News) – Harvey dumped a year's worth of rain on Houston in a matter of days, shattering last year's above-normal rainfall and bringing this year's total to an unprecedented 73 inches.

But according to Jim Blackburn, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rice University, the storm wasn't just a natural disaster.

"This was a climate-influenced storm. There's no question," Blackburn said. "The temperature in the Gulf of Mexico where the tropical cyclone grew in two days to a Category 4 hurricane was 2 to 7 degrees above normal."

Blackburn has studied the effects of storms on cities for nearly 40 years. He said that when Harvey came ashore, the storm laid bare another problem decades in the making: the massive paving over of the area's natural wetlands and prairies.

"We've covered our sponge up," Blackburn said. "The sponge we had here was wonderful. It would hold water, but … in order to develop it you had to drain it. You had to get rid of the water. And as we've developed out we've dumped water back on ourselves."

Since the 1950s, nearly 88 square miles of wetlands have disappeared in the Houston area due to development. And the region's system of canals and bayous are overwhelmed by increasingly heavy storms.

"Basically, Harvey is the new norm," Blackburn said. […]

"Houston's economy has been disrupted. We are going to have a hard time recovering and we're going to wear the brand of having this on us," Blackburn said.

"This is what climate scientists have been telling us would happen," he said. "Absolutely, it's a game changer." [more]

"We've covered our sponge up": Harvey reveals problem decades in the making

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