Natural Disasters on the Rise?

Jan 2, 2005 -- -- Last year began with a massive relief effort, much like what's happening in Southeast Asia today. Yet, it a wasn't a tsunami that caused this devastation.

A powerful earthquake struck Iran the day after Christmas 2003, killing 30,000 people and destroying 70 percent of homes and businesses in the ancient city of Bam.

The earthquake, a large number of hurricanes and tornadoes, and now the tsunamis, have many people wondering if natural disasters are on the rise.

'These Events Are Not Related'

Heidi Cullen, a meteorologist and severe weather specialist for the Weather Channel, told ABC News' "Good Morning America" the events of the past year don't appear to be related.

"The convergence is that they all happened over the same period, but these events are not related per se," said Cullen. "With the events [over the past year] we're talking about three distinct things -- weather, climate and geology. These all are defined by very different time scales.

"Weather patterns form very quickly," she added. "Climate change develops much more slowly, and geological shifts take a long, long time. So while the Earth is an interconnected entity, the events of the past year are not related."

2004 was also one of the most destructive years for hurricanes. There were 15 named tropical storms, five more than normal. Florida was hit by four of them. The last time one state was hit by so many hurricanes was 118 years ago in Texas.

The biggest and strangest surprise was Hurricane Caterina. She hit Brazil in March, shocking scientists who thought it was impossible for hurricanes to develop in the South Atlantic.

All those hurricanes spawned a record number of tornadoes -- 1,700 reported in the United States -- that's 300 more than the previous record set in 1998. And in the Pacific, 10 typhoons made landfall in Japan, shattering the previous record of six in one year.

The bill for all these disasters topped $100 billion, more than any other year, and the toll on human life was immeasurable.

Global Warming

According to scientists, 2004 was the fourth warmest year on record, leading many to wonder if global warming could play a role in these natural disasters.

Record high temperatures from Africa to Alaska resulted in mile after mile of dead crops, millions of acres of scorched land, and, to top it off, Alaska recorded its worst fire season ever, with 6.5 million acres burned.

Cullen said that the average world temperature has increased between one and one-and-a-half degrees over the past 100 years.

"A lot of what we do is directly contributing to global climate change. Driving cars, using electricity, send CO2 into the atmosphere," Cullen said.

"We're basically short-circuiting the natural cycle of things by pulling a disproportionate amount of fossil fuels out of the earth and pumping them into the atmosphere."