Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:19 PM GMT on June 24, 2008
Typhoon Fengshen may be the deadliest Pacific tropical cyclone since 1991. The death toll in the Philippines now stands at 598 dead or missing on land, with another 800 missing and presumed dead in the wake of the sinking of the ferry MV Princess of Stars. Fengshen (the Mandarin Chinese name for the God of Wind) made landfall over the northern Philippines Saturday, triggering rains and landslides that destroyed 34,000 buildings and damaged 53,000 more, causing an estimated $100 million in damage. According to typhoon2000.com, the Philippines' deadliest tropical cyclones were Tropical Storm Thelma of 1991 (5101 dead) and Typhoon Ike of 1984 (1363 dead). Left off the list was Tropical Depression Winnie, which killed 1404 people in the Philippines November 29-20, 2004. It appears likely that the death toll from Fengshen will exceed Winnie's, making Fengshen the deadliest Western Pacific tropical cyclone since 1991's Tropical Storm Thelma.
Figure 1.The ferry MV Princess of Stars. Image credit: Sulpicio Lines.
The ferry and the forecast
The ferry MV Princess of Stars (Figure 1), operated by Sulpicio Lines, left the capital of Manila on Friday night before the storm, headed south for the 20-hour run to Cebu. At the time, Fengshen was a Category 1 typhoon, headed due west, and was located a few hundred miles south of the ship. As the ferry began passing through the outer spiral bands of Fengshen, the storm did a sharp (and poorly forecast) turn to the north-northwest and began a burst of rapid intensification to strong Category 2 status (110 mph winds), bringing very high waves and much higher than anticipated winds to the region the ferry was traversing. The waves battered the ship to the point where the engines stalled, and the ferry lay helpless until the strongest portion of the storm, the northern eyewall, passed over the ship and sank it. Why the ferry allowed itself to get so close to the storm in the first place is a mystery.
Figure 2.Visible satellite image of Fengshen at 4:55 GMT June 21, 2008, 25 minutes after radio contact was lost with the ferry MV Princess of Stars. The ship had left Manila in the Philippines about 8 hours prior to the accident for the 20 hour trip to Cebu. It appears that the ferry ran into the north eyewall of Fengshen when it was at peak intensity, with sustained winds of 110 mph. Fengshen was headed due west when the ferry set sail (track image, lower left), then made a sudden, poorly forecast turn to the north-northwest as the ferry approached the typhoon. Image credit: NASA.
There are currently no threat areas in the Atlantic to discuss. One computer model, the GFS, is forecasting a disturbed area of low pressure may form the the southern Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche on Sunday. The other models don't see this happening, and instead put the focus of any development on the Pacific side of Mexico early next week. At present, this seems a more reasonable forecast.
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