Weather Extremes Define ’04
The record highs and deadly storms could be linked to global warming.
By Devin Gray, The Associated Press
Buenos Aires, Argentina – The year 2004, punctuated by four powerful hurricanes in the Caribbean and deadly typhoons lashing Asia, was the fourth-hottest on record, extending a trend since 1990 that has registered the 10 warmest years, a U.N. weather agency said Wednesday.
The current year also was the most expensive for the insurance industry in coping worldwide with hurricanes, typhoons and other weather-related natural disasters, new figures released by U.N. environmental officials show.
The release of the report by the World Meteorological Organization came as environmental ministers from about 80 countries gathered in Buenos Aires for a U.N. conference on climate change, looking at ways to cut down on greenhouse gases that some say contribute heavily to Earth’s warming.
Scientists say a sustained increase in temperature change is likely to continue disrupting the global climate, increasing the intensity of storms, potentially drying up farmlands and raising ocean levels.
Michel Jarraud, the World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, said the warming and increased storm activity could not be attributed to any particular cause, but was part of a global warming trend that was likely to continue.
Scientists have reported that temperatures across the globe rose an average of 1 degree during the past century with the rate of change since 1976 at roughly three times that.
The World Meteorological Organization said it expects Earth’s average surface temperature to rise 0.8 degree above the normal 57 degrees Fahrenheit in 2004, adding this year to a recent pattern that includes the four warmest on record, the hottest being 1998.
October also registered as the warmest October since accurate readings began in 1861, said the agency, which is responsible for assembling data from meteorologists and climatologists worldwide. During the summer, heat waves in southern Europe pushed temperatures to near-record highs in southern Spain, Portugal and Romania.
The extreme weather of 2004 extended to storms.
The Caribbean had four hurricanes that reached Category 4 or 5 – those capable of causing extreme and catastrophic damage. It was only the fourth time in recent history that so many were recorded. The hurricanes of 2004 caused more than $43 billion in damage in the Caribbean and the United States.
Japan and the Philippines also saw increased extreme tropical weather, with deadly typhoons lashing both islands.
Statistics released at the climate change conference showed that natural disasters across the world in the first 10 months of the year cost the insurance industry just more than $35 billion, up from $16 billion in 2003.
Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest insurance companies, said the United States tallied the highest losses at more than $26 billion.