Haiyan: A Super-Duper Typhoon… Also Known as Yolanda?


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super typhoon Haiyan

Super typhoon Haiyan is targeting the Philippines – are the winds really this strong? Image courtesy of NASA

Super Typhoon Haiyan is about to strike the Philippines a nasty blow – although they are calling the storm Yolanda in the Philippines. What makes Haiyan so super, and what will this typhoon do to the Philippines?

What is a Super Typhoon?

The definition of a ‘super typhoon’ is arbitrary: It’s a typhoon with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour or greater. A ‘sustained wind’ means the wind maintains an average strength for over a minute; a stronger wind over a shorter period of time is a ‘gust.’

Haiyan has had sustained winds at 190 miles per hour. If these measurements prove accurate, this is the strongest tropical system anywhere this season, and possibly the strongest storm ever recorded. Why would you doubt the measurements? Unfortunately, not all wind-measuring instruments are built to exacting specifications, and many do not perform well under extreme conditions.

Why is Typhoon Haiyan So Powerful?

Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda, depending on your perspective) is this powerful for several reasons; western Pacific typhoons are often stronger than Atlantic hurricanes.

First off, size matters. The Pacific Ocean is bigger than the Atlantic, so storms have a longer fetch over which to travel and gain strength. In addition, the water in the Pacific is warmer than that of the Atlantic, so the Pacific brews bigger storms. Finally, dry air from Africa affects Atlantic hurricanes; there is no corresponding source of dry air  for the Pacific.

What Will Haiyan Do?

The results of Haiyan most likely will not be pretty. A wind greater than 150 miles per hour will knock down many things in its path. The construction standards in the Philippines are not sufficient to expect much to survive that kind of assault. To make matters worse, Haiyan will strike an area that was hit by a typhoon last year, and more recently was devastated by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Many people are still homeless or living in makeshift homes that are unlikely to survive these blasts.

Typhoon Paths

Atlantic hurricanes can travel westward across the ocean, through the Caribbean Sea, and on into Mexico; or they can curve up the east coast of the United States or out to sea. Similarly Pacific typhoons can travel westward through the Philippines and on into the Sea of China, or curve northward towards Japan. Japan is usually spared the greatest fury of a typhoon, because the water nearby is cold and the systems lose strength as they encounter the colder water. Typhoons that hit the Philippines stay over warm water until landfall.

Where Will Haiyan Go?

Storm warnings are up over much of the Philippines, and the storm will strike somewhere in the center of the country tonight New York time (which is tomorrow morning in Asia). The interaction with land will weaken the super typhoon, but as Haiyan moves over the China Sea, the storm may strengthen again as it heads in the general direction of Vietnam.

Author’s Note:

This article was written before Haiyan struck the Philippines. The results of Haiyan’s wind and flooding were horrendous: 6,300 killed; 28,700 injured; over 1,000 still unaccounted for. Damage was over two billion American dollars. Haiyan went on to cross the China Sea and cause flooding in Vietnam and China. Damages there totaled just under a billion US dollars.

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