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Weather extremes to worsen, climate study says

By Seth Borenstein (AP) - November 2, 2011

For a world already weary of weather catastrophes, the latest warning from top climate scientists paints a grim future: More floods, more heat waves, more droughts and greater costs to deal with them.

A draft summary of an international scientific report says the extremes caused by global warming could eventually grow so severe that some locations become “increasingly marginal as places to live.”

The report from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change marks a change in climate science, from focusing on subtle shifts in average temperatures to concentrating on the harder-to-analyze freak events that grab headlines, hurt economies and kill people.

“The extremes are a really noticeable aspect of climate change,” said Jerry Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “I think people realize that the extremes are where we are going to see a lot of the impacts of climate change.”

The final version of the report from a panel of leading climate scientists will be issued in a few weeks, after a meeting in Uganda. The draft says there is at least a 2-in-3 probability that climate extremes have already worsened because of man-made greenhouse gases.

By the end of the century, the intense, single-day rainstorms that typically happen once every 20 years will probably happen about twice a decade, the report said.

The opposite type of disaster – a drought such as the stubbornly long dry spell gripping Texas and parts of the Southwest – could also happen more often as the world warms, said Meehl, who reviewed part of the climate panel report.

Researchers have also predicted more intense monsoons with climate change. Warmer air can hold more water and impart more energy to weather systems, changing the dynamics of storms and where and how they hit.

The panel was formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization.