Meteorologists often remind us that the capricious, three-dimensional fluid we call the atmosphere is imperfectly observed, and that is why we shouldn't get our hopes up for perfect forecasts.

That said, the quality of monitoring and observation has improved immeasurably in recent years, and we are seeing things we never saw before.

That, of course, is a big reason why tornado sightings are off the charts, and why it isn't possible to compare the numbers for the last 10 years with those, say, of the 1950s.

Hurricane Patricia last week became the most-intense cyclone on record in the Western Hemisphere, in terms of central pressure, and peak sustained winds, 200 m.p.h.

"On record" is a key qualifier, as Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesman at the National Hurricane Center, points out.

No standard anemometer or barometer could take those measurements; they came from aircraft reconnaissance.

Planes have been flying into hurricanes since World War II, but the quality of instrumentation has improved greatly.

"Reliable intensity records really begin in the late '80s," he said in an email. "The data base is not that large." So in terms of Patricia-related superlatives, he added, "on record" is the best way to go.

It is likely that at some point in our poorly observed past, a storm of equal or greater magnitude has occurred, said Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane specialist at Colorado State University.

The "on record" qualifier is important given the discussions over how the magnitude of storms is being affected by worldwide warming.

In terms of hurricane intensity, we refer you to this circumspect analysis from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, in Princeton, regarding the impacts of warming on hurricanes.

But the Lab points out that that the ambiguity "contrasts with the situation for other climate metrics, such as global mean temperature."

The National Climatic Data Center estimates that temperatures so far this year are running about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above 20th-century averages.

Other databases might quibble with the decimal points, but they are in accord with the general trend.

World databases generally are in agreement on the levels of warming. As for observation, world databases all agree world has warmed -- this year it is running about 1.5 degrees above 20th-century averages.