'I've been a meteorologist for 30 years, and I've never seen a year like 2011'
Top international climate scientists and disaster experts meeting in Africa have a sharp message for the world's political leaders: Get ready for more dangerous and unpredictable weather caused by global warming.
They're calling for preparations that they say will save lives and money.
The experts fear that without preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making them uninhabitable.
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new special report on global warming and extreme weather Friday after meeting in Uganda.
This is the first time the group of scientists has focused on the dangers of extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, droughts and storms.
Those are more dangerous than gradual increases in the world's average temperature.
The Washington Post reported that the report said there was at least a 66 percent chance that climate extremes had been changed because of carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels and other human activity.
"Economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters are increasing," the report said, according to the Post.
"The fact is, a small change in average temperature can have a big impact on extremes," Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report's reviewers, told the paper in an interview. "It's pretty straightforward: As average temperatures go up, it's fairly obvious that heat extremes go up and [the number of] low extremes go down."
In August, the U.S. government said the United States had already tied its yearly record for the number of weather disasters with an economic loss of $1 billion or more .
National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said at the time that, "I don't think it takes a wizard to predict 2011 is likely to go down as one of the more extreme years for weather in history."
A report by the National Climatic Data Center listed the storms and other weather-related events that had caused more than $1 billion in damage.
"I've been a meteorologist for 30 years, and I've never seen a year like 2011 in terms of extreme weather events,” Jeff Masters, of the Weather Underground website, said in a press call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to the Post.
David Friedberg, CEO of Climate Corp., which offers weather insurance for farmers, told the paper that more corn and soybean farmers were paying between $30 and $40 an acre to supplement federal insurance because of the weather's unpredictability.
"What we see is really the acute pain experienced by farmers because they're suffering from more floods and more droughts than they've ever experienced," Friedberg added.
It's not just the big headline grabbing disasters like a Hurricane Katrina or the massive 2010 Russian heat wave that studies show were unlikely to happen without global warming. "A particular pattern of rising risks" from smaller events is being seen, said one of the study's lead authors, Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre in the Netherlands.
Of all the weather extremes that kill and cause massive damage, he said, the worst is flooding.
There's a debate in the climate science community about whether it is possible and fair to attribute individual climate disasters to manmade global warming. Usually meteorologists say it's impossible to link climate change to a specific storm or drought, but that such extremes are more likely in a future dominated by global warming.
The panel was formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization. In the past, it has discussed extreme events in snippets in its report. But this time, the scientists are putting them all together.