The United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says 2005 is likely to be the second warmest year on record.  The WMO has just presented its yearend report on the status of the global climate and natural disasters.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) calls the past 12 months an exceptional time for extreme weather events and natural disasters.  WMO's director-general, Michel Jarraud, says the combination of record hurricanes, the Asian Pacific tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan makes this an exceptional period in terms of deaths and economic losses.

"Altogether over the last 12 months, there were more than 350,000 people who lost their lives as a result of all these natural disasters," he said.  "The economic costs were staggering, probably well over $200 billion, and that is certainly the highest economic cost recorded for disasters. " 

In its yearend report, WMO says new records for heat waves have been set in many parts of the world.  For example, it says 2005 was the hottest year in Australia since records began in 1910.  It says record temperatures also swept across parts of South Asia, Southern Europe, North Africa and the southwestern United States.  Mr. Jarraud says high temperatures can lead to drought.  He says the long-term drought in the Horn of Africa continued, and drought occurred in the northwestern United States and in Australia.

"But we had also continued droughts over several parts of Europe, over southeast Africa and that led to food shortages in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola, and a few other countries," he added. 

WMO says extreme weather events also led to unprecedented heavy rain and widespread flooding in parts of western and southern India.  Disastrous floods also occurred in places such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Eastern Europe.  Mr. Jarraud says global warming will lead to more frequent heat waves.

"There is a risk of higher desertification, drought in places which are already subject toward distress," he added.  "And conversely, there is a risk of higher precipitation in regions where floods can be a problem.  So, in that respect, global warming is likely to lead to more precipitation, in particular in middle and high latitude areas." 

The World Meteorological Organization says there was a record number of deadly hurricanes in 2005.  The Atlantic hurricane season brought an unprecedented 26 named tropical storms that caused devastating losses across Central America, the Caribbean and the United States.  The previous record for the most named storms was 21 in 1933.  WMO says there are indications that warming in the Caribbean is leading to more frequent, very intense hurricanes.