Super-Typhoon Hagupit To Hit Philippines; Millions Affected

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Super-Typhoon Hagupit churns towards the Philippines. Satellite image courtesy of US Navy.

Super-Typhoon Hagupit churns towards the Philippines. Satellite image courtesy of US Navy.

The Philippines has been hit hard By Super-Typhoons (a Super-Typhoon has winds over 150 miles per hour) in the past two years: First Haiyan in 2013; then Rammasun in 2014.

Now comes possibly the most powerful storm ever to hit land — Super-Typhoon Hagupit.

Storm Names: Always An Issue In The Philippines

Residents of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, often impacted by both Atlantic and eastern Pacific hurricanes, are accustomed to alphabetical lists of names for each body of water. Not so in the western Pacific.

The western Pacific typhoon names are taken from a continuous list of 140 names, not alphabetical, but submitted by each Asian country that could be affected, and organized by the World Meteorological Organization’s Tropical Cyclone program.

The current Super-Typhoon was given the name Hagupit, a name offered by the Philippines.

Here’s where things get weird. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration insists on using its own list of names when a typhoon enters its Philippine Area of Responsibility. Thus, even though the Philippines submitted the name Hagupit, the storm will be called Ruby in the Philippines.

Decoded Science will refer to this typhoon as Hagupit.

Super Typhoon Hagupit: Origin and Development

Hagupit began as a disturbance unusually close to the equator (about three degrees north latitude). It moved over very warm water south of Guam, developed into a Tropical Storm on Saturday, then explosively deepened under perfect typhoon-strengthening conditions to a Super-Typhoon on Wednesday.

What Makes A Super-Typhoon?

The most powerful storms on earth form in warm tropical oceans, where the latent heat of the water is virtually unlimited. Under suitable atmospheric conditions, latent heat, accumulated in water vapor bit by bit every time a water molecule is ripped from the sea by the heat of the air, can be released into the air when the water molecules condense; the heat energy released is converted into kinetic energy of motion (wind).

Eventually the process relieves some of the pressure of a continuously-heating equator and cooling pole by redistributing the equatorial heat poleward, as the wind dissipates due to friction with the ground, turning the energy back into heat at a higher latitude.

In addition to warm water, a Super-Typhoon requires a quiet atmosphere — one in which the wind is nearly the same at all levels. This allows the cyclone to acquire a vertical structure in which wind enters near the bottom, rises, and exits at the top. The saturated air, spiralling upward, creates torrential rain to go with surface winds that can top 200 miles per hour.

Whom Will Hagupit Affect?

The official Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast for Super-Typhoon Hagupit. Forecast courtesy of US Navy.

The official Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast for Super-Typhoon Hagupit. Forecast courtesy of US Navy.

Unfortunately, Super-Typhoon Hagupit will strike areas already battered by typhoons in the last year. It is on a track to be about as destructive as a typhoon can be, skirting the Philippines just offshore, so that its circulation is minimally affected by interaction with the land, but so that the circulation affects millions of people.

The typhoon is forecast to pass within a hundred miles of the major metropolitan area of Manila, which has a population of over twenty-one million.

How Strong Is Hagupit? How Strong Will It Get?

As of this morning, Hagupit has winds estimated at 180 miles per hour. These are forecast to increase to 190 miles per hour by tonight, and persist for at least 24 hours. This would make Hagupit one of the strongest storms ever recorded, and place it close to the theoretical maximum for a tropical cyclone.

Gusts could top 225 miles per hour. The damage caused by that kind of wind is catastrophic.

Hagupit: Evacuations Taking Place

Low-lying coastal areas, many of which were devastated last year by Haiyan, are being evacuated. Haiyan killed over 6,000 people.

Hagupit is forecast to veer north of Haiyan’s path and slow down, keeping it near the shore for a long time, then turn towards Manila with its dense population. Though Hagupit’s winds will diminish before it reaches the Philippine capital, the storm could still be a minimal Super-Typhoon. Winds of Super-Typhoon strength in a densely populated region would be unprecedented and cause almost incalculable damage to property. Hopefully, precautions will prevent or at least minimize loss of life.

Uncertainties In The Forecast Track

Several factors could cause Hagupit to deviate from the forecast path. A weak wave in the jet stream could nudge the storm farther north and away from Manila. On the other hand, the subtropical ridge, which is currently steering the storm, could strengthen and push Hagupit farther south than anticipated, possibly directly over Manila.

Super-Typhoons and Global Warming

No single weather phenomenon, no matter how extreme, can prove that global warming is taking place. Super-Typhoon Hagupit is just another extreme weather event that is consistent with climate change.

The relationship between tropical cyclones and global temperature is very simple: The higher the water temperature, the stronger the storms. The sea surface temperatures have been rising at a faster rate, relative to the historical averages, than the air temperatures.

Higher water temperature: stronger storms. Voilá, Hagupit.

If you ask anybody in the central or northern Philippines if global warming is real, there isn’t any doubt what they would respond.

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