Category 4 landfalling hurricane Harvey poured more than a metre of rainfall across the heavily populated Houston area, leading to unprecedented flooding and damage. Although studies have focused on the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to this extreme rainfall event1–3, limited attention has been paid to the potential effects of urbanization on the hydrometeorology associated with hurricane Harvey. Here we find that urbanization exacerbated not only the flood response but also the storm total rainfall. Using the Weather Research and Forecast model—a numerical model for simulating weather and climate at regional scales—and statistical models, we quantify the contribution of urbanization to rainfall and flooding. Overall, we find that the probability of such extreme flood events across the studied basins increased on average by about 21 times in the period 25–30 August 2017 because of urbanization. The effect of urbanization on storm-induced extreme precipitation and flooding should be more explicitly included in global climate models, and this study highlights its importance when assessing the future risk of such extreme events in highly urbanized coastal areas.
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