Judging by the last ten days, you’d think Super-Typhoons were a dime a dozen — or at least two for the price of one.
After Neoguri declined from Super-Typhoon status before battering Okinawa and raking the main islands of Japan, Rammasun smashed Manila before becoming a Super-Typhoon and slamming into China.
Let’s look at the conditions that spawned these vicious storms and determined their paths.
The Pacific Ocean
When Magellan rounded the tip of South America through the rough straits now named after him, he found himself in the relatively calm waters of an ocean, the extent of which he knew not. He christened the ocean with the Latin word for peaceful — and though there are times when parts of this ocean are most un-peaceful, the name stuck. The largest ocean on earth, comprising 30% of the entire earth’s surface and 50% of its water area, will forever be called the Pacific Ocean.
The Trade Winds
A zone of high pressure circles the globe at around 30° latitude. In the northern hemisphere, air flows with high pressure on its right. So south of 30° the wind, called a trade wind, is from the east. In both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the trade winds pile up warm surface water in the western parts of the oceans. But since the Pacific is so large, the effect is more pronounced. A huge pool of warm water covers the western Pacific, even in the winter.
Formation Of A Typhoon
Typhoons metabolize warm water and turn it into wind energy, just as a rabbit eats a carrot and turns it into the energy of procreation. The warmer the water, the easier it is for a typhoon to form and the stronger it can become. The water in the western Pacific is now nearly one degree Fahrenheit above normal, so it is not surprising that tropical cyclone activity is robust.
Typhoon Rammasun, Known In The Philippines As Glenda
Typhoon Rammasun formed in the western Pacific’s typhoon breeding ground near Guam. But whereas last week the general flow was towards the northwest, which carried Typhoon Neoguri into Japan, the flow this week was straight to the west.
Rammasun headed for the Philippines, turned only slightly north of west, strengthened into a major typhoon with winds up to 140 miles per hour, and struck Manila, home to 12 million people, many of whom live in substandard structures.
The predictable result was widespread damage; but there was relatively little loss of life (64 confirmed fatalities), at least compared with last year’s Super-Typhoon Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) which killed over 6,000.
After losing some of its punch in the mountains of the Philippines, Rammasun re-strengthened over the South China Sea and attained Super-Typhoon strength (winds over 150 miles per hour) before striking the Chinese island of Hainan. The city of Haikou, with a population of over two million, took a direct hit. No poems will be written in this storm’s honor.
Rammasun Isn’t Finished
Rammasun will make a final landfall on the China-Vietnam border tonight with 140 mile per hour winds, sparing Hanoi the worst effects as it passes more than 100 miles to the northwest of Vietnam’s capital. Rammasun will rapidly weaken as it moves northwest into China, finally dissipating after bringing additional moisture to the monsoonal rains in the foothills of the Himalayas.
And Now Here Comes Matmo
Tropical Storm Matmo is now located east of the Philippines, but the general flow has shifted back more to northwest, and hopefully Matmo will spare that hard-hit country, though it could be a close call.
The current forecast takes Matmo very close to the southern tip of Taiwan Tuesday night.The forecast cone is wide at that time scale; it includes Hong Kong, Taipei, and Shanghai.
One thing is sure: The storm will strengthen over warm, open water. The most recent forecast calls for 110 mile per hour winds as Matmo approaches landfall.
Will There Be Many More Typhoons This Year?
Oh, yes. Matmo is the tenth named storm of the west Pacific season, which began on January first. The average number of named storms is 27, of which 17 normally become typhoons, and five reach Super-Typhoon status. With the water warmer than normal, oh, yes, there will be many more typhoons.