The Planet’s Strongest Storm So Far This Year Just Tore Through The Philippines, And Isn’t Done Yet

Super Typhoon Utor hit the Philippines on Monday, killing at least two people, damaging hundreds of houses, and causing 1,895 people to be evacuated.

Hurricanes are known as typhoons in the Western Pacific Ocean, and instead of using the Saffir-Simpson 1–5 scale (with Category 5 being the strongest) storms are either typhoons or super typhoons. When a typhoon sustains wind speeds of 150 mph, with gusts of 184 mph, it is upgraded to a super typhoon. Typhoon Utor’s wind speed reached 150 mph, and a distinctive eye formed right before it made landfall on the Philippine island of Luzon on Monday morning local time (Sunday afternoon EDT), making it a Super Typhoon.


As it passed across Luzon, the storm itself weakened as it transferred its energy to the island in the form of 150 mph winds, flash flooding, intense rainfall, and 20–30 feet storm surges. A farmer in Nueva Vizcaya province rescued his water buffalo from powerful flooding, but drowned in the process. Another man was pulled from a landslide while he was trying to clear a canal, but he died on the way to the hospital. Power lines fell in northern areas and the cities of Dagupan and Baguio recorded 7.5 inches of rain.

Waves of up to 8 feet roiled the waters off Luzon and initially left 43 fisherman missing — the hope is that they sought shelter and will soon return to their homes. The Philippines’ National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that, as of 12 p.m. local time, 111 homes were completely destroyed, with another 562 sustaining partial damage. Utor destroyed 80 percent of the infrastructure in the town of Casiguran, ripping the roof of a hospital. 1,123 boat passengers were left stranded, 12 domestic flights were cancelled,

Utor is known locally in the Philippines as “Labuyo” — the siling labuyo is a small but powerful chili pepper found in the Philippines. The typhoon may have weakened as it crossed land, but it picked up speed as it reached the South China Sea. Utor is expected to reach Taiwan and southern China on Wednesday

The hurricane seasons in the Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific may be milder in 2013, but the Pacific typhoon season is as active as ever. NOAA recently scaled back its predicted number of storms in the Atlantic by two, though peak hurricane season is just getting started. Hawai’i experienced its first direct hit from a major storm in 20 years from Tropical Storm Flossie in late July, despite neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation conditions that usually mean low storm activity. The Pacific typhoon season, however, was predicted to be just as active as normal, if not more so.


The Philippines regularly suffer damage from typhoons and super typhoons — the average is 20 storms a year — though the trend is increasing. The five most devastating typhoons on record have hit the Philippines since 1990, and as water temperatures increase, storms get stronger, and sea levels rise, storms have the potential to exact more and more damage on the island nation. Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the head of the Philippine government’s climate change commission, said in February that climate change was “like a war” in her country. Filipinos rate climate change as a larger threat than rising food and gas prices.