Video: Extreme weather tied to climate change

  1. Transcript of: Extreme weather tied to climate change

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We have spent so much time here this year reporting on extreme weather events . Think about it. The loss of life, the property damage that's gone along with them. Well, tonight a new report from the United Nations panel on climate change says there's more where all that came from. And we may be in for some adventure. Here is our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson .

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: If you think the weather is wacky now, just wait. Today's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms what many already suspect, our weather will only get more extreme as greenhouse gases continue to be pumped into the air by burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

    Mr. THOMAS STOCKER (Climate Change Panel Co-Chair): The frequency of hottest days will increase by a factor of four within the next 30 to 40 years.

    THOMPSON: And by the end of the century , a once in 20-year hot day has a very good chance of happening once every two years. Along with more frequent and longer heat waves , the panel says we can also expect an increase in heavier rainstorms. And though the number of hurricanes is likely to stay the same or even decrease, the panel says the hurricanes that do form will have higher wind speeds. But it's not all doom and gloom. This report is aimed at the world's policy makers to show them what can be done to reduce the devastating impact of extreme weather and save lives. In the first eight months of this year, the US recorded 10 weather events costing $1 billion or more, a new record. From the Groundhog Day blizzard to the destruction in Joplin , Missouri , to Hurricane Irene . The damage topping $45 billion.

    Total Cost: More Than $45 Billion

    Source: NOAA

    THOMPSON: Scientists say it doesn't have to be that way. Ms. SABRINA McCORMICK ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report Lead Author ): We can build more safely. We can climate -proof our infrastructures such that when there are extreme impacts, our buildings are safe.

    THOMPSON: Cities can plant more trees and green space to reduce the heat island effect . Development can be limited in coastal areas at risk from sea level rise.

    Ms. McCORMICK: Extreme weather events don't have to have extreme consequences.

    THOMPSON: A warning from which people and the planet can benefit. Anne Thompson , NBC News, New

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/18/2011 7:06:27 PM ET 2011-11-19T00:06:27

Top international climate scientists and disaster experts meeting in Africa have a sharp message for the world's political leaders: Get ready for more dangerous and unpredictable weather caused by global warming.

They're calling for preparations that they say will save lives and money.

The experts fear that without preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making them uninhabitable.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new special report on global warming and extreme weather Friday after meeting in Uganda.

This is the first time the group of scientists has focused on the dangers of extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, droughts and storms.

Those are more dangerous than gradual increases in the world's average temperature.

The Washington Post reported that the report said there was at least a 66 percent chance that climate extremes had been changed because of carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels and other human activity.

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"Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters are increasing," the report said, according to the Post.

"The fact is, a small change in average temperature can have a big impact on extremes," Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report's reviewers, told the paper in an interview. "It's pretty straightforward: As average temperatures go up, it's fairly obvious that heat extremes go up and [the number of] low extremes go down."

In August, the U.S. government said the United States had already tied its yearly record for the number of weather disasters with an economic loss of $1 billion or more .

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National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said at the time that, "I don't think it takes a wizard to predict 2011 is likely to go down as one of the more extreme years for weather in history."

A report by the National Climatic Data Center listed the storms and other weather-related events that had caused more than $1 billion in damage.

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"I've been a meteorologist for 30 years, and I've never seen a year like 2011 in terms of extreme weather events,” Jeff Masters, of the Weather Underground website, said in a press call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to the Post.

David Friedberg, CEO of Climate Corp., which offers weather insurance for farmers, told the paper that more corn and soybean farmers were paying between $30 and $40 an acre to supplement federal insurance because of the weather's unpredictability.

"What we see is really the acute pain experienced by farmers because they're suffering from more floods and more droughts than they've ever experienced," Friedberg added.

It's not just the big headline grabbing disasters like a Hurricane Katrina or the massive 2010 Russian heat wave that studies show were unlikely to happen without global warming. "A particular pattern of rising risks" from smaller events is being seen, said one of the study's lead authors, Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre in the Netherlands.

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Of all the weather extremes that kill and cause massive damage, he said, the worst is flooding.

There's a debate in the climate science community about whether it is possible and fair to attribute individual climate disasters to manmade global warming. Usually meteorologists say it's impossible to link climate change to a specific storm or drought, but that such extremes are more likely in a future dominated by global warming.

The panel was formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization. In the past, it has discussed extreme events in snippets in its report. But this time, the scientists are putting them all together.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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