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Typhoon Vongfong Rages in the Pacific Sets Sights on U.S. Airbase

8 Oct 2014, 1:13 pm

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Photo credit: NOAA

It’s official: Super Typhoon Vongfong is now the most powerful tropical cyclone of 2014. The storm, once equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, has weakened, but remains a top-end Category 4. Vongfong winds are sustained at 150-mph and has a central pressure of 920 millibars. Given all this information, the Japan Meteorological Agency has classified the storm as “very strong.”

The latest update from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center has Super Typhoon Vongfong about 400 miles south-southeast of Kadena Air Force Base; moving northward at 7-mph.

Potential Impacts

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Photo credit: CIMMS

And with American interests in the Pacific — most notably on the Japanese island of Okinawa — what kind of impacts are expected?

In recent hours, the Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center has bumped Vongfong’s track further west. Meaning Kadena Air Force Base is likely to see winds sustained above hurricane-force for a number of hours. Weather conditions will deteriorate substantially prior to the storm passing Okinawa late Saturday evening, local time.

According to the JTWC, Vongfong will — at its closest — pass within 65 miles of Okinawa. The base says winds of 90 to 100-mph are possible around 11 p.m. Saturday night.

Massive amounts of rain are possible in the island as well. Rain in excess of a foot is not out of the real of possibility.

While it’s still the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, Vongfong is expected to lose some intensity as it passes Okinawa.

In a post on their Facebook page, Kadena Air Force Base officials are urging base personnel and residents to prepare for a significant hit from the powerful storm. Their threat level system, called the “Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness (TCCOR),” ranges from TCCOR 4 to TCCOR 1.

The Airbase is currently on TCCOR 3, meaning “destructive winds are possible within 48 hours.”

Here’s what the base suggests after the threat level is raised to TCCOR 3: “TCCOR 3 means we are getting closer to storm time. What do you have outside that needs to be put away (bikes, grills, toys, etc.)? It will blow away or cause damage if not taken care of.”

After passing Okinawa, Vongfong is forecast to weaken significantly as it makes a beeline for southern Japan. Potentially making landfall near the city of Kagoshima as a Category 1-like typhoon. The storm could bring significant rain and gusty to parts of the Kagoshima Prefecture and on into the central part of the country. The Japan Meteorological Agency has issued advisories and warnings — along the southern coast — for storm surge, high waves and gales. Thus far, no “emergency warnings” — the highest level of alertness in the JMA’s warning system — has yet to be issued.

Changes to the forecast are expected and WeatherNation meteorologists will bring you the latest as it becomes available.

Vongfong’s History

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Yigo Mayor and crew cut up and clear tree that's blocking village road. #guam #yigo #vongfong

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Vongfong formed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — east of Guam — early on Oct. 3 local time. Starting out as a tropical depression, the storm quickly became a tropical storm amd started its west-northwesterly track. By late on Oct. 4, Vonfong became the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane.

As Vongfong started to close in on the U.S. Territory of Guam, the storm strengthened into a Category 2-like storm. And packing winds of 105-mph, Vongfong passed about 50 miles north of the island. Anderson Air Force Base, on Guam, recorded winds of tropical storm-force.

Another American territory — the Mariana Islands — received the brunt of the storm as it passed by. National Weather Service reporting stations on the islands recorded winds nearing 80-mph. The storm caused power outages on the island of Rota, but most customers have since been restored.

After passing Guam and the Mariana Islands, the storm underwent major strengthening — going from 105-mph to 180-mph in just 24 hours.

Comparisons to Super Typhoon Haiyan

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(Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the central Philippines, including the city of Tacloban. This image shows debris inundating the streets of Tacloban.)
Photo crdit: Flickr/Trocaire

There’s been quite a bit of chatter on social and digital media, comparing Vongfong to Haiyan. In Novemeber 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan shattered global meteorology records as one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

At it’s peak, Haiyan has sustained winds estimated at 195-mph and had a central pressure estimated to be 895 millibars. Haiyan also plowed into heavily populated areas of the central Philippines, razing whole communities and reportedly killing at least 6,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of other Filipinos we left homeless and without basic necessities.

Vongfong’s winds topped out at 180-mph and its minimum central pressure dropped to 900 millibars. By basic metrics, the storms do seem similar, but when you take into account the human costs, Haiyan casts a long shadow over Vongfong.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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