The World Meteorological Organisation said on Wednesday it expects Earth's surface temperature to rise 0.4 degrees Celsius higher than the normal 14 degrees Celsius adding 2004 to a recent warming trend that saw the hottest year registered in 1998 and the top three hottest since then. 

The month of October also registered as the warmest October ever since accurate readings were first started in 1861, the agency responsible for assembling data from meteorologists and climatologists worldwide, said.

"This was a very warm year," Michel Jarraud, the WMO
secretary-general, said. He noted that it was also marked by an unusual number of hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the Caribbean, the United States and Asia. 

Greenhouse gases

The report's release comes as environmental ministers from 80 countries gathered in Buenos Aires for a UN conference on climate change, looking at ways to cut greenhouse gases that some have blamed for Earth's warming. 

Billions of dollars in insurance
damage claims were filed in 2004

This summer, heat waves in southern Europe pushed temperatures to near-record highs in southern Spain, Portugal and Romania, where thermostats peaked at 40 degrees Celsius while the rest of Europe sweltered through above average temperatures. 

Jarraud said the warming and increased storm activity could not be attributed to any particular cause, but was part of a global warming trend that was likely to continue. 

Scientists have reported that global temperatures rose an average of 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past century with the rate of change since 1976 at roughly three times that over the past 100 years. 

Strong storms

This year, the hurricane season in the Caribbean spawned four hurricanes that reached Category 4 or 5 strength capable of causing extreme and catastrophic damage. It was only the fourth time in recent history that so many strong storms were recorded. They caused more than $43 billion in damages. 

The stormy season in the Caribbean inflicted the most damage on Haiti, killing as many as 1900 people from flooding and mudslides caused by tropical storm Jeanne in September. 

Hurricanes slammed into Florida
and the northeastern US coast

Japan and the Philippines also saw increased extreme tropical weather, with deadly typhoons hitting both islands. Japan registered a record number of typhoons making landfall this year with 10, while back-to-back storms in the Philippines killed at least 740 people in what was the wettest year since 2000, the UN agency said. 

UN environmental officials released new findings that 2004 also was the most expensive year for the insurance industry as a result of hurricanes, typhoons and other weather-related natural disasters.