Social inequalities in climate change-attributed impacts of Hurricane Harvey

Kevin T. Smiley, Ilan Noy, Michael F. Wehner, Dave Frame, Christopher C. Sampson & Oliver E. J. Wing 


Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Acknowledged Support: Yes, Regional & Global Analysis Program


Climate change is already increasing the severity of extreme weather events such as with rainfall during hurricanes. But little research to date investigates if, and to what extent, there are social inequalities in climate change-attributed extreme weather event impacts. Here, we use climate change attribution science paired with hydrological flood models to estimate climate change-attributed flood depths and damages during Hurricane Harvey in Harris County, Texas. Using detailed land-parcel and census tract socio-economic data, we then describe the socio-spatial characteristics associated with these climate change-induced impacts. We show that 30 to 50% of the flooded properties would not have flooded without climate change. Climate change-attributed impacts were particularly felt in Latina/x/o neighborhoods, and especially so in Latina/x/o neighborhoods that were low-income and among those located outside of FEMA’s 100-year floodplain. Our focus is thus on climate justice challenges that not only concern future climate change-induced risks, but are already affecting vulnerable populations disproportionately now.

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