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Hurricane Harvey blamed on climate change; NASA’s Johnson Space Centre closed

A scientist from the world’s largest reinsurer has predicted that climate change is likely to result in more intense storms in the future in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated areas of Houston, the fourth largest city in the US.

“There are more thunderstorms in parts of Europe and the United States than in past decades,” said Ernst Rauch, head of Munich Re’s Corporate Climate Centre, which monitors climate change risks.

“They are more severe. We will not necessarily see an increase in frequency, but we can see an increase in intensity. If we see this, we would have to adjust our risk premium.”

Despite the warning, damages from Hurricane Harvey are estimated to be well below those from the major storms that hit New Orleans and New York in recent years, insurance executives have said.

Though insurers should swallow the claims easily, given that there have been relatively few natural disasters so far this year, the storm will weigh on an industry struggling to contain prices while sustained low interest rates suppress returns on its investment holdings.

German-based Munich Re and Hannover Re, two of the world’s largest reinsurers, said current information suggests that insured losses from Harvey are likely to fall well short of the $75bn (£58bn) for Katrina in 2005 and $30bn for Sandy in 2012.

Air Worldwide, a provider of catastrophe risk modelling software and consulting services, said early on Monday that insured losses from Harvey’s wind and storm surge were estimated at between $1.2bn and $2.3bn. That figure does not include flooding.

“Harvey will be way, way below Katrina,” Munich Re’s Rauch said.

Other major insurers, including Swiss Re, said it is too early to gauge the impact of the storm.

The floods have forced the closure of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, located in Houston, although the space agency said that mission control operations have continued as normal.

Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut and director of the centre said: “While the vast majority of our workforce is safe, many have experienced severe flood damage, are without power and may need other assistance.”

The centre, which covers 1,700 acres southeast of Houston, was first closed on Sunday to all non-critical staff and it remains to be seen when it will reopen.

Astronaut Jack Fischer, who is currently resident on the International Space Station, posted the Tweet below as the storm was ramping up in severity.

Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years, first hit land on Friday and has killed at least two people. It is forecast to remain in the Texas Gulf Coast area for several more days.

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