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Last year, the world seemed to go wild with natural disasters in the deadliest year in a generation. But 2010 was bad globally, and the United States mostly was spared.
This year, while there have been devastating events elsewhere, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Australia's flooding and a drought in Africa, it's our turn to get smacked. Repeatedly.
The insurance company Munich Re calculated that in the first six months of the year there have been 98 natural disasters in the United States, about double the average of the 1990s.
Even before Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on pace to obliterate the record for declared disasters issued by state, reflecting both the geographic breadth and frequency of America's problem-plagued year.
"If you weren't in a drought, you were drowning is what it came down to," Masters said.
Add to that, oppressive and unrelenting heat. Tens of thousands of daily weather records have been broken or tied and nearly 1,000 all-time records set, with most of them heat or rain related:
_ Oklahoma set a record for hottest month ever in any state with July.
_ Washington D.C. set all-time heat records at the National Arboretum on July 23 with 105 and then broke it a week later with 106.
_ Houston had a record string of 24 days in August with the thermometer over 100 degrees.
_ Newark, N.J., set a record with 108 degrees, topping the old mark by 3 degrees.
Tornadoes this year hit medium-sized cities such as Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. The outbreaks affected 21 states, including unusual deadly twisters in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
On June 26, the snowpack on the southern face of the range was 849 percent above average. The northern face had 892 percent more snow than average.
"These events are abnormal," Karl said. "But it's part of an ongoing trend we've seen since 1980."
Individual weather disasters so far can't be directly attributed to global warming, but it is a factor in the magnitude and the string of many of the extremes, Karl and other climate scientists say.
While the hurricanes and tornado outbreaks don't seem to have any clear climate change connection, the heat wave and drought do, said NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt.
This year, there's been a Pacific Ocean climate phenomenon that changes weather patterns worldwide known as La Nina, the flip side to El Nino. La Ninas normally trigger certain extremes such as flooding in Australia and drought in Texas. But global warming has taken those events and amplified them from bad to record levels, said climate scientist Jerry Meehl at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Judith Curry of Georgia Tech disagreed, saying that while humans are changing the climate, these extremes have happened before, pointing to the 1950s.
"Sometimes it seems as if we have weather amnesia," she said.
Another factor is that people are building bigger homes and living in more vulnerable places such as coastal regions, said Swiss Re's Schrast. Worldwide insured losses from disasters in the first three months this year are more than any entire year on record except for 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck, Schrast said.
Unlike last year, when many of the disasters were in poor countries such as Haiti and Pakistan, this year's catastrophes have struck richer areas, including Australia, Japan and the United States.