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99L a threat to develop; damage from Typhoon Megi still largely unknown

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:38 PM GMT on October 19, 2010

Heavy thunderstorm activity has increased and grown more organized this morning over the southwestern Caribbean between Honduras and the Cayman Islands, in association with a tropical disturbance (Invest 99L). The storm is bringing heavy rain to the Cayman Islands; two inches has fallen so far this morning at Savannah on Grand Cayman Island. Recent satellite imagery shows that 99L has some rotation, and the winds on the northeast coast of Honduras at Puerto Lempira have shifted to the west-northwest, implying that 99L may be developing a surface circulation. Wind shear is a moderate 10 - 20 knots, which is low enough to allow some slow development. Water vapor satellite loops reveal that the atmosphere in the Western Caribbean is moist enough to support development, and the waters beneath are plenty warm, at 29°C. The latest SHIPS model forecast predicts that wind shear over the Western Caribbean will mostly remain in the moderate range, 10 - 20 knots, for the remainder of the week. The current north-northwest motion of 99L should continue until Wednesday, when a strong ridge of high pressure is forecast to build in, forcing 99L to the south or west. However, steering currents will be weak Wednesday through Friday, making it difficult to predict where 99L may wander to. The only models that develop 99L are the GFDL and HWRF. The GFDL model predicts that 99L will spend enough time over water to develop into a hurricane, and brings the storm to the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday morning. The HWRF model has 99L making landfall over Honduras late this week, before the storm has a chance to develop into a hurricane. NHC is giving 99L a 40% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Thursday. I believe the odds are higher, near 60%. The Hurricane Hunters are on call to investigate 99L this afternoon.

Figure 1. Morning satellite image of Invest 99L.

Damage from Super Typhoon Megi still largely unknown
The power is still out and communications are down over the majority of the northern portion of the Philippines' Luzon Island blasted by Typhoon Megi yesterday, so the extent of the destruction wrought by the great storm is still largely unknown. Preliminary news reports indicate that at least 10 people died, and the northern Philippine province of Isabela suffered severe damage. Megi hit Luzon on Monday morning at 3:30 UTC as a Category 5 super typhoon with sustained winds of 165 mph and a central pressure of 914 mb. Baguio near the west coast of northern Luzon received 7.72" of rain from the storm, and many mountainous regions likely received over a foot of rain.

Figure 2. Rainfall rates in excess of 1 inch per hour (orange colors) were observed by the polar-orbiting F-18 satellite in association with Megi at 00:40 UTC October 19, 2010. Image credit: Navy Research Lab, Monterey.

Passage over Luzon Island destroyed Megi's eyewall and inner core region, and the storm compensated by expanding and intensifying the portions of its circulation that were over water. Now that its center is back over water in the South China Sea, Megi has re-developed its inner core and has built a formidable new eyewall. At the same time, Megi has been able to maintain its larger size, and is now a much larger typhoon than when it hit the Philippines. This is similar to what happened to Hurricane Ike in 2008 when it passed over Cuba, and helped give Ike a very destructive storm surge when it came ashore over Texas. Wind shear is a low 5 - 10 knots over Megi, and the waters of the South China sea have a very high total heat content to great depth, so Megi should be able to intensify into a very dangerous Category 4 storm by Thursday. The larger size of Megi means that it will be able to deliver a significant storm surge in excess of ten feet to the coast of China of Friday or Saturday, when the storm is expected to make landfall near Hong Kong. As the storm approaches the coast on Friday, wind shear is expected to rise to the moderate or high range, and the total heat content of the ocean will drop significantly, so some weakening is to be expected. Still, Megi will probably hit China as a major Category 3 typhoon,bringing a significant storm surge, high winds, and widespread torrential rains that will likely make this a multi-billion dollar disaster for China.

"Daily Downpour" airing this afternoon
Our live Internet radio show, "Daily Downpour", will be airing today at 4pm EDT. The call in number is 415-983-2634, or you can post a question to broadcast@wunderground.com. You can tune in at http://www.wunderground.com/wxradio/wubroadcast.h tml, and I'll be discussing the latest info on Invest 99L with hosts Shaun Tanner and Tim Roche.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.