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It's always been tempting to look back at the end of the year and assess just how bad it was for the planet in general in terms of natural disasters - and 2005 was a bad one, but it could have been much worse.
In terms of natural catastrophes, 2005 was dominated by windstorms and flooding, but was mercifully free of some of the other potential disasters that eternally lurk in the shadows of our worst nightmares.
Starting off with the biggest potential calamity, something rather interesting has happened in the area of global warming over the past year: supporters of the theory of this phenomenon seem to be winning, while opponents are dwindling in both numbers and credibility.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the amount of evidence for a change in the climate of the earth has increased steadily, building the case to the point where it is very hard to deny. The other is that global weather reports have been rather full over the past few years, as severe storms grow in both intensity and frequency.
Last year was a record year for the Atlantic hurricane season, with the final total for named storms coming to 28. The year saw so much activity that the US-based National Hurricane Centre, which monitors and names storms, ran out of names and had to resort to using letters of the Greek alphabet - something that has never happened before.
To make matters worse, many of these hurricanes were extremely powerful and caused a wide swathe of damage around the Caribbean and the US. The most infamous of these storms was Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall just to the east of New Orleans and then proceeded to lay waste to a large section of the Gulf coast. Although New Orleans was not hit by too much windstorm damage, its levee system was unable to cope with the storm surge that followed the hurricane, leading to massive areas of the city being flooded. The city is slowly recovering, but the bill for the damage is constantly ticking upwards, and the wisdom of rebuilding a city that is mostly below sea level is being questioned.
The link between an increase in hurricane activity and global warming is a tenuous one, especially as Atlantic hurricanes undergo a regular cycle of increasing and then decreasing activity. However, there is some evidence that increasing sea surface temperatures can fuel hurricane intensity by injecting additional warmth into a storm system. Forecasters have been warning that 2006 will also be a very stormy year, with the number of hurricanes in the North Atlantic being quite high again.
After the extremely active 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, the (re)insurance industry can be forgiven for wishing that for once, the experts' predictions are wrong, and that instead 2006 will be a year of blue skies and gentle breezes - however, this is hardly likely given the following.
Blowing hot and …