Harvey, climate change and the Great Lakes

Aug 30, 2017
Originally published on August 30, 2017 11:59 am

Houston's more than 1,000 miles from the Great Lakes, but the devastation brought by Harvey carries some painful lessons for cities far to the north. As the nation confronts climate change, one of the biggest worries will be the increasing number of storms.

That was the topic of discussion today on WDET, as Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson interviewed Great Lakes Today Managing Editor Dave Rosenthal and Rob Meyer, associate editor with The Atlantic.

Meyer said it's difficult to blame climate change for any single storm, but scientists agree that the frequency of storms will increase. He also noted that Harvey intensified due to unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico -- and such events could become more common with climate change.

​On the Great Lakes, storms have an outsized impact, Rosenthal said. In cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, they can overwhelm underground pipes that carry both sewage and storm water, which means millions of gallons of untreated sewage runs directly into rivers and lakes. Storms can also increase fertilizer runoff from farms, leading to more toxic algae blooms in western Lake Erie.

As water temperatures on Great Lakes continue to warm and the ice cover dwindles, there could be more problems, Rosenthal added. Intense Lake Effect snow storms occur as arctic air moves across the open water and picks up moisture. Open water in winter means more erosion, too.  

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