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The Century's Worst Weather

U.S. government climate experts released their list of the top weather disasters of the 20th century Monday. It turns out that the worst one of all in the U.S. took place right at the start of the century in Galveston, Texas. And, as CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, the climate forecast for Y2K suggests a faster and faster climate for change.

Remember that whipping we got from El Nino in 1983? The pounding from Hurricane Andrew in 1992? The devastating Midwest floods the next year?

If you think the weather's been bad lately, you're right. According to federal weather watchers, Americans have endured some of the world's worst weather this century.

"The U.S. gets more severe weather than any other country in the world," says James Baker of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

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From the 1900 hurricane that killed eight thousand people in Galveston, Texas to the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's that displaced tens-of-thousands in the Great Plains to the terrible tornadoes that struck Oklahoma just this year, Americans have seen it all.

"Because of our geography, the size of the United States and where we're located, between two oceans, you get everything," explains Baker. "There's no other country that's quite like it."

Not that we have a monopoly on bad weather. Twenty-four million people died in the Chinese drought and famine early in the century. Legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh filmed disastrous floods there in 1931. Thousands more perished in the North African drought of the 1880s. And researchers say global warming from man-made and natural climate changes is making the weather even worse. According to James Baker, "Our climate is changing more rapidly now than it ever has."

The weather may be getting worse, but our ability to forecast it is getting better. So in the new millennium, people will still complain about the weather, but when it comes to early warning, scientists will be better able to do something about that.

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