Hang on tight for a white-knuckle ride on the U.S. weather roller coaster. Across the nation, extreme weather continues to cause extreme dips, sinking stomachs, and hairpin curves for businesses, including agriculture.

“2012 is clearly a year of wildfires, drought, and heat,” says Tim Schneider of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Hydrologic Development in Boulder, Colo.

Last year, extreme weather events caused about $52 billion in losses in the U.S., NOAA reports. Fourteen weather events caused at least $1 billion in damages each.

Extremes included severe drought in the Southwest, the Mississippi-Missouri River floods, a rash of tornadoes in the Southeast, and ongoing drought-based water restrictions in the West.

Conversations about extreme weather extend beyond the water cooler. In agriculture, producers discuss the latest drought and flood news inside farm sheds, coffee shops, and commodity meetings. Weather events bring financial uncertainty to agriculture.

The scientific community wants to expand its knowledge on why extreme weather has become more of a pattern. Researchers seek to fine-tune methods to help business, including agriculture, better utilize current resources to weather out these financially-destructive storms.

Weather specialists from across the West met in San Diego, Calif., in late July to do just that. Participants at the Extreme Weather Workshop included Western-state science and water specialists from the University of California, California Department of Water Resources, NOAA, USDA, Western States Water Council, state climatologists, and other interested groups.

The group discussed ways to improve observation and monitoring, plus improve weather climate forecasts and predictions.

NOAA currently provides daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring. These services, the NOAA website says, impact about one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product.

“We are asked to do everything under the sun — not just early warnings but to help protect areas of value,” said Roger Pulwarty with NOAA’s Office of Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Agency data assist a wide range of industries including commerce, hydropower, agriculture, coastal areas, recreation, ecosystems, and others.

About a dozen NASA satellites currently orbit the Earth to provide important information on water cycles. The satellites provide continuous observations of the planet’s atmosphere, oceans, and land surface.

Forrest Melton, a senior research scientist at California State University, Monterey Bay, combines NASA Earth observation satellites, remote sensing technology, and data from agricultural weather station networks in his research.

Melton splits his weather and agriculture research between his home base at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field and California State University, Monterey Bay in Seaside.