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Typhoon Utor Pounds Phiippines, Heads for China

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:51 PM GMT on August 12, 2013

Typhoon Utor powered ashore on the northern Philippine Island of Luzon on Monday near 3 am local time (3 pm EDT Sunday) as a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds. Damage was heavy in Casiguran (population 24,000) near where the typhoon made landfall, with 80% of the infrastructure of the town reportedly destroyed, and all roads into the city blocked. Utor is being blamed for two deaths so far, and 44 fishermen are reported as missing.

Figure 1. MODIS satellite image of Typhoon Utor taken at approximately 02:30 UTC on Monday, August 12. At the time, Utor was a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.

Passage over Luzon disrupted the inner core of Utor, reducing the storm to Category 2 strength with winds of 100 mph. Satellite imagery shows that the typhoon is re-organizing, and a new eyewall is forming. Ocean temperatures are very warm, about 30°C (86°F), which is approximately 0.5 - 1.0°C above average. These warm waters extend to tremendous depth, giving Utor a huge source of energy to tap into. Wind shear is low, 5 - 10 knots. These favorable conditions for intensification will last until the typhoon gets midway between the Philippines and China, where wind shear will rise to the moderate range and ocean waters will cool to 29°C with a much lower heat content. I expect Utor will intensify into a Category 3 storm today, and make landfall in China as a Category 2 or 3 storm about 200 hundred miles southwest of Hong Kong about 06 UTC on Wednesday. Utor is a very wet storm, and will likely bring a large swath of 8+ inches of rain across Southeast China on Wednesday. These rains will cause dangerous flash flooding and mudslides.

Utor is a Marshallese word for squall line, and has been used for three tropical cyclones in the Western Pacific--in 2001, 2006, and 2013. Utor reached super typhoon status with 150 mph winds on Sunday, making it the strongest tropical cyclone globally so far in 2013. Earth's previous most powerful tropical cyclone of 2013 was Typhoon Soulik, which reached Category 4 strength with 145 mph winds on July 10. Soulik weakened to a Category 2 storm before hitting Taiwan on July 12.

Video 1. News video of the damage from Typhoon Utor in Casiguran in the Philippines. Utor is being called Typhoon Labuyo locally in the Philippines. Thanks to wunderground member AussieStorm for posting this in my blog comments.

The Philippines no stranger to powerful typhoons
The Philippines lie in the most tropical cyclone-prone waters on Earth, and rarely escape a year without experiencing a devastating typhoon. Usually, these storms impact the northern Philippine island of Luzon, but last year, Earth's deadliest weather disaster of 2012 occurred on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Super Typhoon Bopha struck as a Category 5 super typhoon with winds of 160 mph (260 km/h), on December 3. Bopha made two additional landfalls in the Philippines, on central Visayas and on Palawan, on December 4. The typhoon left 1901 people dead, mostly on the island of Mindanao, making Bopha the 2nd deadliest typhoon in Philippine history. Bopha affected over 5.4 million people and left over 700,000 people homeless. With damages estimated at $1.7 billion, Bopha was the costliest natural disaster in Philippines history.

Figure 2. December 7, 2012: rescuers and residents look for missing victims amongst toppled tree trunks and coconut shells after flash floods caused by Super Typhoon Bopha hit Compostela Valley on Mindanao Island in the Philippines on December 3 - 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Jay Morales, Malacanang Photo Bureau, HO)

Activity possible late this week in the Gulf of Mexico
A tropical wave in the Central to Eastern Caribbean is kicking up disorganized heavy thunderstorms as it heads westwards. Wind shear is a very high 40 knots over the region, and the wave is not a threat to develop for the next two days. However, once the wave reaches the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, some of the models are suggesting that the wave will find a region with lower wind shear, and a strong tropical disturbance capable of becoming a tropical storm could form near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula or farther north in the Gulf of Mexico. If it penetrates far enough into the northern Gulf of Mexico, the tropical wave could interact with a stalled cold front expected to push off the Southeast U.S. coast late this week. This interaction could produce a hybrid low pressure system that might be partially tropical, and capable of bringing heavy rains to the Southeast U.S. on Saturday and Sunday. In their 8 am EDT Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave the system a 20% of developing by Saturday, and a 0% chance of developing by Wednesday.

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.