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2005 has been the year for extreme weather events

Records set for hurricanes, storms, wildfires

WASHINGTON -- It has been a record year for tropical storms, hurricanes, wildfires, and almost one for heat, too.

The year's 26 tropical storms bested the 21 in 1933, and 14 of them became hurricanes, surpassing the total of 12 in 1969, the government reports.

The hurricanes included Katrina, which claimed more than 1,300 lives along the Gulf Coast and inundated New Orleans during the costliest storm season in US history.

Tropical cyclone activity, however, was below average in the Eastern Pacific and near average in the Western North Pacific. In the Australian region there were six tropical cyclones during the 2004-2005 season, compared with an average of 10.

The information comes from the year-end weather roundup by the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jay Lawrimore, a scientist at the center, said the United States is expected to finish the year with an average temperature about 1 degree Fahrenheit above the 52.8 degree average, making it one of the 20 warmest years on record.

Temperatures were above normal over most of the globe, Lawrimore said, because of a combination of factors. He said there has been a trend toward warmer readings in recent years. But it could not be determined yet how much of the increase is natural variability and how much might be a result of climate change.

In the United States, the temperatures during a heat wave in July soared above 100 degrees, and broke more than 200 daily records. A record seven consecutive days at or above 125 degrees was established at Death Valley, Calif.

The heat wave spread across the country during late July, scorching the East, and leading to record electricity usage in New England and New York.

In Geneva, the head of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, said it will be one of the four warmest years on record. Asked what effect climate change might have had in the increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, Jarraud said the scientific evidence was unclear.

''For any single weather event, any single tropical cyclone, it is never due to one cause," Jarraud said. He said it was likely that global warming played a part in this year's extreme weather events, but that ''the honest scientific answer for hurricanes is that we don't know."

The effect of global warming is more easily seen in Arctic ice caps, Jarraud said. According to his group's data, the extent of ice receded this year to the lowest levels ever observed, down about 20 percent from averages compiled between 1979 and 2004.

The report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said end-of-summer sea ice in the Arctic has been declining about 8 percent per decade, reaching a record low of 5.32-million-square-kilometers in September.

The report also found that during the fall, there was record precipitation in the Northeast from a series of storms. The October snowfall record on Mount Washington in New Hampshire was shattered when 78.9 inches of snow fell during the month. The old record was 39.8 inches in October in 2000.

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