Houston’s flooding underscores disaster management challenges

This Google Earth image series produced by Chris Renschler’s team shows land use and land cover transitions around Houston's Addicks and Barker reservoirs. The images show the location of the reservoir gates and how new developments have crept closer from the East toward and around the reservoirs as time has passed. Renschler says. Image: LESAM.org/University at Buffalo/Images via Google Earth.


As the Earth’s climate changes, many scientists predict that warmer temperatures could lead to intensifying hurricanes, with individual storms dropping more rain.

As such, the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in and around Houston may presage the challenges that disaster managers will face in the years ahead, says UB disaster researcher Chris Renschler.

Renschler, associate professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, researches extreme events, including soil erosion and flooding.

“In Houston, the situation is absolutely devastating,” he says. “This is an unprecedented precipitation event, but it should give us the motivation to think about these unprecedented events, particularly in hurricane-prone areas.

“These kinds of floods are not wholly natural,” he says. “They are the result of both natural and human-driven processes. Humans can’t fully control nature, but we can control decisions such as where to build new residential developments, where and how to build temporary storages for flood water, and when to open the floodgates of a dam. We can also control how we communicate with the public about the risks of flooding.”


Published August 31, 2017

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