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 was also the most expensive for the insurance industry in coping worldwide with hurricanes, typhoons and other weather-related natural disasters, according to new figures released by U.N. environmental officials.
The release of the report by the World Meteorological Organization came as environmental ministers from some 80 countries gathered in Buenos Aires for a United Nations 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 is likely to continue disrupting the global climate, increasing the intensity of storms, potentially drying up farmlands and raising ocean levels, among other things.
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 over the past century, with the rate of change since 1976 at roughly three times that over the past 100 years.
The World Meteorological Organization said it expects Earth’s average surface temperature to rise 0.8 degrees above the normal 57 degrees Fahrenheit in 2004, adding this year to a recent pattern that included the four warmest years on record, with the hottest being 1998.
The month of 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.
Heat wave, severe storms
During the summer, heat waves in southern Europe pushed temperatures to near-record highs in southern Spain, Portugal and Romania, where thermometers peaked at 104 degrees while the rest of Europe sweltered through above-average temperatures.
The extreme weather of 2004 extended to storms.
The Caribbean had four hurricanes that reached Category 4 or 5 status — 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.
The worst damage was on Haiti, where as many as 1,900 people died from flooding and mudslides caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne in September.
Japan and the Philippines also saw increased extreme tropical weather, with deadly typhoons lashing both islands. Japan registered a record number of typhoons making landfall this year with 10, while back-to-back storms in the Philippines killed at least 740 people in the wettest year for the globe since 2000, the U.N. agency said.
High cost of weather
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 over $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, while small developing nations such as the Caribbean islands of Grenada and the Cayman Islands were also hit hard.
Other parts of the world also witnessed extreme weather, with droughts occurring in the western United States, parts of Africa, Afghanistan, Australia and India. Jarraud, of the U.N. weather agency, said the droughts were part of what appears to be a surge over the last decade.
The prolonged rising temperatures and deadly storms were matched by harsh winters in other regions.
Peru, Chile, and southern Argentina were all hit with severe cold and snow during June and July.
Jarraud said the high temperatures like those seen in parts of Europe this year were expected to inch up in the coming years.
Citing recent studies by European climatologists, Jarraud said heat waves in Europe “could over the next 50 years become four or five times as frequent as they are now.”