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Irene challenges forecasters on storm intensity

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Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, they noted it's unclear if global warming has had an effect on past hurricane trends. A bit like a radio signal buried in static, any global warming signal has been swamped by natural variations in hurricane frequency and intensity and by inconsistent quality and coverage of tropical-cyclone records worldwide.

Still, based on today's understanding of how these storms work and climate simulations built on that knowledge, "future projections consistently indicate that greenhouse gas warming" will boost the average intensity of tropical cyclones around the world by 2 percent to 11 percent by 2100.

And while the overall number of storms in a given season is expected to drop by 6 percent to 34 percent by century's end, a higher proportion of the storms that do form are expected to muscle their way into the top intensity rankings.

In Irene's case, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami had a bead on the storm's path up the US East Coast by early evening last Tuesday.

As Irene began its encounter with the southern Bahamas, forecasters had the track moving across the eastern tip of North Carolina and up the eastern seaboard. Forecasts of the storm's post-Carolina track wobbled back and forth slightly as NOAA and US Air Force Reserve hurricane hunters took the storm's measure as often as once every three hours.

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