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Space Station Captures Spectacular Images of Typhoon Maysak

By: Jeff Masters 9:22 PM GMT on April 01, 2015

Category 4 Typhoon Maysak is headed west-northwest towards the Philippines, after pounding the islands of Yap State in Micronesia's Caroline Islands on Tuesday. At 2 pm EDT Wednesday the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) put Maysak's top sustained winds at 140 mph, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put Maysak's central pressure at 935 mb. Maysak underwent an eyewall replacement cycle early on Wednesday, when the inner eyewall collapsed and was replaced by a larger-diameter eyewall that formed from a spiral band. This process weakened the storm's winds by 20 mph, and satellite loops showed a shrinking of the storm's heavy thunderstorms, along with a warming of the cloud tops. However, on Wednesday afternoon, the cloud tops began cooling and the area of heavy thunderstorms was expanding, showing that Maysak had recovered from its eyewall replacement cycle and might be ready to intensify once again. Maysak has moderate wind shear of 10 - 20 knots and a large area of ocean with sea surface temperatures of 28°C (82°F) to work with until landfall. As Maysak approaches the Philippines, wind shear will rise to the high range (20 - 30 knots), and there is some dry air surrounding the storm that will likely get driven into the core by the high wind shear. The total heat energy in the ocean will decrease, which should also help allow weakening to occur. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) is predicting that Maysak will be a Category 1 storm when it hits Luzon Island in the Philippines. The 12 UTC Wednesday runs of the GFS and European models predicted that the center of Maysak would come ashore in Luzon near 21 UTC (5 pm EDT) Saturday.

Figure 1. Some of the most spectacular images ever captured of a tropical cyclone from space: Category 5 Super Typhoon Maysak as seen from the International Space Station at approximately 6 pm EDT Tuesday March 31, 2015 (just after dawn local time.) At the time, Mayask had top winds of 160 mph as estimated by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, and a central pressure of 905 mb, as estimated by the Japan Meteorological Agency. I brightened the images and flipped them 180 degrees using Photoshop to better show them off. Image credit: Terry W. Virts.

Maysak was the strongest typhoon (by pressure) so early in the year
At its peak strength on Tuesday, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put Maysak's central pressure at 905 mb, the lowest pressure they have estimated for any typhoon occurring so early in the year (previous record: 930 mb for Typhoon Mitag of March 2002, Typhoon Alice of January 1979, and Typhoon Harriet of January 1959.) The earliest in any year we've seen a typhoon stronger than Maysak was in 1971, when Super Typhoon Amy deepened to 890 mb on May 2. JTWC gave Maysak a Category 5 rating with 160 mph winds on Tuesday, making it one of only three Category 5 typhoons ever observed in the Northwest Pacific prior to April (the other two were Super Typhoon Ophelia of January 1958 and Super Typhoon Mitag of March 2002, both with 160-mph winds). According to intensity estimates from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, 2015 is the first year on record to have three Category 5 storms form in the Pacific Ocean during the first three months of the year. The other two Category 5 storms in 2015 were Tropical Cyclone Pam (165 mph winds), which devastated Vanuatu in mid-March, and Tropical Cyclone Eunice (160 mph winds), which affected ocean areas in the South Indian Ocean. Reliable satellite records of Southern Hemisphere tropical cyclones extend back to the early 1990s, so we only have about a 25-year period of good records for global tropical cyclones. Earth averaged 4.6 Category 5 storms per year between 1990 - 2014, with 59% of these occurring in the Northwest Pacific.

Maysak causes heavy damage to Chuuk and Yap
At least 5 deaths and extensive damage have been reported on Chuuk State (Micronesia), where Maysak passed through over the weekend as a Category 1 typhoon. Up to 90% of the homes were reportedly damaged or destroyed by the storm. On Tuesday, Maysak's northern eyewall passed over the sparsely populated islands of Fais and Ulithi in the Yap State of Micronesia while the storm was close to its top strength, and damage was likely severe to catastrophic on those islands. Chuuk and Yap should keep an eye on a new tropical disturbance, Invest 99W, which is organizing near where Maysak formed. The latest 12Z UTC Wednesday runs of the GFS and European models show 99W becoming no worse than a weak tropical storm, though, and the JTWC is giving 99W low odds of developing.

Bob Henson will have a post Thursday on the results of California's crucial April 1 snow survey.

Jeff Masters


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