By Jeff King
It’s the most powerful storm on the planet at this moment – and one of the biggest ever. If prayer is something you believe in to help protect those in harm’s way – this would be a good time.
Super Typhoon Vongfong has whirred relentlessly as it churns slightly northward toward Japan. Once that shift is made, the storm is predicted to follow the width of the island nation before heading toward Russia. Fortunately for lives and losses, the storm has mostly stayed at sea – though waves associated with the maelstrom are averaging more than 40 feet high on adjacent shores. The storm’s reach has made it a formidable presence to be dealt with in Korea, China, Japan and even Russia.
By comparison, Tropical Storm Iselle packed sustained winds of more than 35 miles per hour when she made landfall on the southeast side of the Big Island in August. Roofs and trees were helpless against the forces of nature. Vongfong – almost incredibly – has blasted sustained winds of more than 160 miles per hour times this week. And wind gusts have exceeded 200 miles per hour.
The eye of the storm – that deceptively calm spot in the exact center of the fury has expanded and contracted only a little this week.
The size of the “eye” is only slightly smaller than the entire length of the island of Maui. It is easily spotted in the latest infrared animation of the storm’s path.
The storm is so massive that it arches the curvature of the earth in an image captured from the International Space Station.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center track takes this weakening tropical system on a slow pace following a northerly track through the next 48 hours before picking up speed after passing Okinawa on its way towards Japan.
The projected path shows this system moving directly towards Japan, with the latest forecast showing it veering northeastwards across the spine of the Japanese Islands. This path puts parts of Japan under threat of heavy weather conditions by Sunday evening.
The primary concern is that recent Typhoon Phanfone moved along a path quite close to what Super Typhoon Vongfong is taking. Phanfone brought very heavy rains, and – according to Pacific Disaster Center expert and Maui Meteorologist Glenn James – it looks likely that Vongfong could bring rains to the same soils that were previously saturated by Phanfone. This in turn could cause very dangerous flash flooding and mudslide activity.
The good thing, at least in terms of winds, are that it will push over cooler sea surface temperatures, and stronger wind shear aloft, as it gets closer to Japan. Then, upon land interaction with Japan, when Vongfong is forecast to be a weakened typhoon that should quickly drop down into a much less dangerous tropical storm as it moves inland. James’ synopsis of the awesome spectacle of nature can be perused here.