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UN weather agency: Scorching heat soon to be routine

CANCUN, Mexico — The brutal heat waves that killed thousands of Europeans in 2003 and that choked Russia earlier this year will seem like average summers in the future as Earth continues to warm, the U.N. weather agency said Tuesday.

The last decade confirmed scientific predictions of 20 years ago that temperatures will rise and storms will become more fierce — and those trends are likely to continue, said Ghassam Asrar, who heads the climate research center at the World Meteorological Organization.

The WMO was due today to release details on the last decade’s global temperatures, but Asrar said it was the warmest on record.

Scientists say the warming trend is caused mainly by industrial pollution accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping heat. Negotiations conducted under U.N. auspices have been trying to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep temperatures from rising to levels likely to have disastrous consequences.

While it is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, extreme events are becoming more common. Judging by the current trend, the unprecedented heat wave that scorched Europe in 2003 and Russia this July will seem cool by the end of the century, Asrar said.

“There is no question the past three decades have become progressively warmer,” he said. “We are on an upward trajectory.”

Although climate science is still evolving and learning from current patterns, Asrar said government planners should plan for a warming world.

In 2003 an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people died from heat-related ailments or incidents, in the hottest summer since 1540. Russia’s summer this year was the warmest this century and ignited peat fires in the forests around Moscow that suffocated the capital for weeks. Temperatures soared into the 90s in normally chilly Siberia.