Get ready for more severe storms, droughts and heat waves

  • Article by: SETH BORENSTEIN , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 8:02 PM

A new report says places from Mumbai to Miami need to prepare for more severe storms, droughts and heat waves.

The report cites 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans, above, and the Gulf Coast, to make the point that “developed countries also suffer severe disasters because of social vulnerability and inadequate disaster protection.”

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WASHINGTON - Global warming is leading to such severe storms, droughts and heat waves that nations should prepare for an unprecedented onslaught of deadly and costly weather disasters, an international panel of climate scientists said in a report issued Wednesday.

Extreme weather poses the greatest threat to highly populated, poor regions of the world, the report warns, but no corner of the globe -- from Mumbai to Miami -- is immune. The document by a panel of climate scientists forecasts stronger tropical cyclones and more frequent heat waves, deluges and droughts.

The 594-page report blames the scale of recent and future disasters on a combination of man-made climate change, population shifts and poverty.

In the past, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, founded in 1988 by the United Nations, has focused on the slow inexorable rise of temperatures and ocean levels as part of global warming. This report by the panel is the first to look at the less common but far more noticeable extreme weather changes, which lately have been causing on average about $80 billion a year in damage.

'Risk almost everywhere'

"There are lots of places that are already marginal for one reason or another," said Chris Field, one of the report's top editors and an ecologist with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

But it's not just poor areas. "There is disaster risk almost everywhere," he said.

The report specifically points to New Orleans during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, noting that "developed countries also suffer severe disasters because of social vulnerability and inadequate disaster protection."

In coastal areas of the United States, property damage from hurricanes and rising seas could increase 20 percent by 2030, the report said. And in parts of Texas, the area vulnerable to storm surge could more than double by 2080.

Already U.S. insured losses from weather disasters have soared from an average of about $3 billion a year in the 1980s to about $20 billion a year in the last decade, even after adjusting for inflation, said Mark Way, director of sustainability at insurance giant Swiss Re.

Last year that total rose to $35 billion, but much of that was from tornadoes, which scientists are unable to connect with global warming. U.S. insured losses are just a fraction of the overall damage from weather disasters each year.

Globally, the scientists say that some places, particularly parts of Mumbai in India, could become uninhabitable from floods, storms and rising seas. In 2005, nearly 3 feet of rain fell on the city over 24 hours, killing more than 1,000 people and causing massive damage.

Other cities at lesser risk include Miami, Shanghai, Bangkok, China's Guangzhou, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, Myanmar's Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and India's Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

The people of small island nations, such as the Maldives, may also need to abandon their homes because of rising seas and fierce storms.

'Global weirding'

"The decision about whether or not to move is achingly difficult, and I think it's one that the world community will have to face with increasing frequency in the future," Field said.

This report -- the summary of which was issued in November -- is unique because it emphasizes managing risks and how taking precautions can work, Field said.

Northeastern University engineering and environment Prof. Auroop Ganguly, who didn't take part in writing the IPCC report, praised it and said the extreme weather it highlights "is one of the major and important types of what we would call 'global weirding.'"

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