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Category 4 Typhoon Vicente hits China

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:40 PM GMT on July 24, 2012

Typhoon Vicente powered ashore about 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Macao, China Monday at 19:30 UTC as a dangerous Category 4 typhoon with 135 mph winds. The typhoon brought sustained winds of 58 mph with a peak wind gust of 83 mph to Hong Kong, and sustained winds of 55 mph with a peak wind gust of 76 mph to Macao. No deaths are being blamed on the typhoon, but 118 were injured, and the storm is dumping very heavy rains over Southeast China that will cause serious flooding.

Figure 1. Radar image of Vicente at landfall 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Hong Kong, China. Image credit: Hong Kong Observatory.

Figure 2. Firemen investigate the collapsed scaffolding caused by typhoon Vicente at a residential building in Hong Kong Tuesday, July 24, 2012. The strongest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in 13 years swirled into southern China as a tropical storm Tuesday, still potent enough for mainland authorities to order the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and warn residents of possible flooding. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

A hurricane forecasters' nightmare
Vicente was an example of a hurricane forecaster's nightmare. In six hours, Vicente strengthened from a Category 1 typhoon with 80 mph winds to a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds. Even twelve hours before this remarkable burst of intensification, there was little indication that Vicente would undergo rapid intensification. It is very fortunate the the typhoon missed a direct hit on the heavily populated areas of Hong Kong and Macao, because there was no time to evacuate all the people who would have needed to leave for the impact of a Category 4 storm--particularly since the storm hit at night. If a similar type of storm were to affect a vulnerable area of the U.S. coast such as the Florida Keys, New Orleans, Houston/Galveston, or Tampa Bay, the death toll could easily be in the thousands. I have great hopes that the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program (HFIP), currently in year three of a ten-year effort aimed at improving hurricane intensity forecasts by 50%, will be able to give us tools to be able to predict rapid intensification events like Vicente's several days in advance. However, we are still many years from being able to predict such events, and the hurricane forecasters' nightmare storm is still a very real possibility.

Atlantic to get more active?
NHC is giving a disturbance along a frontal boundary 600 miles east-northeast of Bermuda a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression, but this system is not a threat to any land areas. Recent runs of both the GFS and NOGAPS models have predicted that tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa late this week and early next week could show some development. These predictions have not been consistent, but we are getting towards the time of year when we need to start watching the tropical waves coming off of Africa.

Jeff Masters


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