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UN Reports 2004 Fourth Warmest Year on Record

The World Meteorological Organization says 2004 has been the fourth-warmest year since 1861, when global temperatures were first recorded. This year was characterized by a number of extreme or abnormal weather events.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the past 10 years, with the exception of 1996, are among the warmest 10 years on record. While 2004 comes in fourth in terms of record temperatures, the WMO says the month of October hit record highs.

Scientists say 2004 was marked by a number of extreme weather events, many of which caused great loss of life and property. For example, it says heat waves with near-record temperatures affected southern Spain, Portugal, and Romania. On the other hand, it says abnormally cold conditions reportedly killed 92 people in July in high-altitude areas of the Andes in southern Peru.

World Climate Expert Gilles Sommeria attributes the increase of temperature to the emission of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. He says this is a well-known phenomenon.

"It is expected from models that the atmosphere temperature will go on rising," he said. "The sea surface temperature will go on rising. The sea ice will go on melting. Also, we have the melting of glaciers on continents. That is already very clear and relatively well accepted now. The problem of extreme events is very delicate and there is a likely increase of extreme events foreseen for the coming decades."

Mr. Sommeria says there are natural occurring sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from volcanoes, but these are relatively rare. He says most of these emissions are man-made.

The report catalogues a long list of extreme weather patterns. It cites prolonged drought in parts of southern Africa, with a shorter rainy season than normal across parts of the Horn of Africa. It speaks of abundant rainfall and flooding in many regions, including the United States, Bangladesh, Japan, and coastal Brazil. The report describes, what it calls, an above-average number of hurricanes and deadly typhoons.

Meteorologist Soobasschandra Chacowry says great improvements have been made in forecasting extreme events. And he notes countries that used these forecasts were able to save many lives.

"This year, in the United States, the government or the authorities evacuated two million people," he noted. "In Cuba, they evacuated one-million people based on the forecast. In China, they evacuated 300,000 people. The forecast is good, so good that the national authorities take this very seriously in the whole planning process."

Mr. Chacowry notes that countries such as Haiti experienced heavy loss of life from a typhoon this summer, because it did not use the forecast to get its people out of harm's way.

He says it is likely that abnormal weather patterns will accelerate in future years. He says more investment should be made in satellites and land and sea observation stations to better predict and prepare for these coming events.