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Unlike last year, when many of the disasters were in poor countries such as Haiti and Pakistan, this year’s catastrophes have struck richer areas, including Australia, Japan and the United States.

The problem is so big that insurers, emergency managers, public officials and academics from around the world are gathering Wednesday in Washington for a special three-day National Academy of Sciences summit to figure out how to better understand and manage extreme events.

The idea is that these events keep happening, and with global warming they should occur more often, so society has to learn to adapt, said former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s deputy chief.

Sullivan, a scientist, said launching into space gave her a unique perspective on Earth’s “extraordinary scale and power and both extraordinary elegance and finesse.”

“We are part of it. We do affect it,” Sullivan said. “But it surely affects us on a daily basis _ sometimes with very powerful punches.”

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Researcher Julie Reed Bell contributed to this report.

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Online:

U.S. weather records: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records

NOAA’s tornado list: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/torn/fataltorn.html

NOAA’s weekly hazards map: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/threats

Munich Re’s January-June U.S. disasters report: http://bit.ly/q6xfXJ