Climate

Typhoons Are Starting Early This Season, And A Big One Is Headed Toward The Philippines

CREDIT: AP Photo/NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti

This image taken Tuesday March 31, 2015 shows Typhoon Maysak taken by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from the International Space Station.

Typhoon Maysak killed at least five people and damaged homes in the Chuuk state of Micronesia earlier this week, and now the weakened — but still dangerous — storm is headed towards the Philippines.

On Tuesday, Typhoon Maysak reached super typhoon status, with the Joint Typhoon Warning Center measuring its wind gusts at up to 195 miles per hour and sustained winds at 160 mph. Since Tuesday, the storm has weakened, with winds falling to around 132 mph Thursday, making it the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane.

But the typhoon made history during its time as a Category 5 equivalent storm. Meteorologist and Weather Underground founder Jeff Masters said that Maysak is the third super typhoon on record with such high wind strengths before April 1. Masters wrote on March 30 that Maysak was part of a “record early start to typhoon season in the Western Pacific.”

“Maysak is the fourth named storm so far in 2015 in the Western Pacific, and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) database shows only one other year since 1945 with more named storms that formed during the first three months of the year — 1965, when there were five named storms,” Masters wrote. “Maysak is already the third typhoon of the year, setting a record for the most typhoons so early in the year.”

This early start, Masters writes, is partially due to warm waters driven by a weak El Niño. But though there’s been an increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean over the last several decades — an increase that’s expected to continue as the climate warms and water temperatures in the Atlantic rise — the relationship between climate change and typhoons in the Western Pacific is less clear, Masters told ThinkProgress in an email. Unlike in the Atlantic, water temperatures in the Western Pacific are warm enough to support typhoons year-round, so an increase in ocean temperature may not lead to a longer typhoon season.

In general though, the world should be prepared for more, stronger storms in the future, he said.

“Climate models predict that we will see an increase in the strongest typhoons, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones in the coming decades, and it would not be a surprise to see an increase in those strong storms in months when we are not used to seeing them, due to the increased heat energy in the oceans,” Masters said.

Maysak is expected to weaken further as it travels towards the Philippines, due to the dry air and wind shear it will encounter.

But the storm, which is expected to reach the Philippines over the weekend, will still likely bring flooding and strong winds to the Philippines. Weather Underground writes that, even though Maysak could weaken to the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane by the weekend, “significant impacts are still possible, including flash flooding, mudslides, storm surge along east-facing shores, high surf and coastal erosion.” The storm also could make Easter celebrations difficult for the nation, which is is majority Catholic.

The Philippines is no stranger to typhoons, especially in recent years. In the last decade, the Philippines has experienced five of its 10 most deadly typhoons. In 2012, Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,000 people and caused widespread damage in the country. And in 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,300 people in the Philippines, making it the country’s deadliest typhoon in recent history. The storm, which occurred during the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, prompted Philippines delegation head Yeb Sano to make an emotional speech at the talks, imploring country leaders to address climate change.

“We must stop calling events like these as natural disasters,” Sano said in 2013. “It is not natural when people continue to struggle to eradicate poverty and pursue development and gets battered by the onslaught of a monster storm now considered as the strongest storm ever to hit land. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms.”