Tropical Storm Superlatives for The Pacific Ocean

By: Christopher C. Burt , 4:45 AM GMT on September 29, 2011

Tropical Storm Superlatives for The Pacific Ocean.

Last week I blogged on tropical storm superlatives for the Atlantic Basin. This week I follow up with the superlatives for hurricanes/typhoons in the Pacific Ocean. Being by far the largest body of water on earth, the Pacific holds most of these superlatives so far as tropical storms are concerned. A full 70% of all tropical storms form here, whether in the Eastern Pacific (normally off the western coast of Mexico) or in the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific Oceans. The only other active region in the world for tropical formation is the Indian Ocean and the Austral-Asian region in the southern hemisphere. Below are the records set in the Pacific, most of which, also happen to be world records.

The table above clarifies the various names and classifications used to identify tropical storms from all regions worldwide Source: World Meteorological Organization. Table from ‘Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book.’

This computer mosaic depicts the paths of all tropical storms that formed in the world between 1985 and 2005. As can be seen the majority occur in the Pacific Basin.

Eastern Pacific Hurricane Superlatives

Most Intense Eastern Pacific Hurricane

Hurricane Linda was the most intense tropical storm ever observed in the Eastern Pacific region. The storm formed on Sept. 9, 1997 and reached its peak intensity on Sept. 12th when its central pressure fell to 902mb (26.58”). Its maximum sustained winds were estimated to have reached 185mph at this time. The storm never made landfall aside from passing over the uninhabited island of Socorro Island, several hundred miles south of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

A Satellite image of Hurricane Linda when she was at her peak on Sept. 12, 1997 with sustained winds estimated at 185mph. Image from NOAA.

Here is a list of the ten most intense Eastern Pacific hurricanes on record as determined by their lowest observed central pressures:

Deadliest Eastern Pacific Hurricane

The unnamed 15th tropical storm of the season of 1959 came ashore on Mexico’s central Pacific coastline near Manzanillo as a category 4 hurricane on Oct. 27th. Wind gusts of 155mph were measured at this location. An estimated 1,500-2,000 deaths were attributed to the storm in Colima and Jalisco States with 40% of all the structures in Manzanillo destroyed.

Below is a list of the ten deadliest hurricanes yet recorded in the Eastern Pacific region:

Costliest Eastern Pacific Hurricanes

Hurricane Pauline caused $10.3 billion in damages (inflation adjusted 2011 dollars) to the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero when the storm came ashore here on Oct 9, 1997. As many as 400 were killed in the region.

The second costliest Eastern Pacific hurricane, and the strongest ever to strike Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki that slammed into the island of Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992 with 145mph measured wind gusts. $3.2 billion in damage (2011 inflation adjusted dollars) was caused to Hawaii by Iniki and 6 deaths were reported. Iniki also holds the Eastern Pacific record for lowest landfall pressure measured with a 945mb (27.91”) reading when the storm came ashore.

Earliest and Latest Tropical Storms to form in the Eastern Pacific

The earliest tropical storm to form in the Eastern Pacific was TS Alma on May 14, 1990. This was tied by TS One-E again on May 14th in 1996. The latest storm on record was TS Winnie, which survived as such until December 7, 1983.

Heaviest Rainfall Totals Caused by Eastern Pacific Tropical Storms

Hurricane Juliette dumped 39.80” at Cuadano, Santiago in Mexico’s Baja from Oct. 1-3, 2001. Hurricane Hiki in 1950 is reputed to have dropped 52.00” of rain at Kanalohuluhulu Ranger Station, Kauai between Aug. 14-18. More than this may have actually fallen since the 24”-capacity rain gauge was found overflowing when checked on both Aug. 15th and 16th. This is the greatest amount of rainfall ever attributed to a tropical storm in the United States.

Highest Wind Speed Measured during an Eastern Pacific Hurricane

Hurricane Iniki is reputed to have produced the highest measured wind speeds during any Eastern Tropical storm on record when it struck Kauai, Hawaii on Sept. 11, 1992.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, “The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 175 mph (280 km/h). The highest recorded wind speed from Hurricane Iniki was a 227 mph (365 km/h) reading from the Navy's Makaha Ridge radar station. That remarkable figure was recorded at a digital weather station whose wind gauging equipment blew off after taking the measurement during the storm.”

I have not been able to confirm this remarkable claim. Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis writes the following on his web site featuring Hurricane Iniki, “The maximum of 227mph reported from the Navy Radar Site at Makaha Ridge has been depicted as an anomaly due to improper instrument calibration; therefore unrealistic. I do not entirely agree with that. It may be possible to achieve such wind speeds from funneling (venturi) effects.”

Hurricane Iniki as she ripped through Lihue, Kauai on Sept. 11, 1992. Photo by Bruce Asato, courtesy of the Honolulu Advertiser.

Western Pacific Typhoon Superlatives

Most Intense Typhoon

This, of course, was the famous Typhoon Tip, largest and most powerful tropical storm yet recorded anywhere on earth.

Super Typhoon Tip formed in the western Pacific on October 5, 1979. Slow to develop and exceedingly erratic in its early movement, Tip eventually grew into a monster with a circulation and cloud formation 1,350 miles in diameter.

If such a storm were centered in the Gulf of Mexico, it would extend from Miami, Florida, to Amarillo, Texas. Tip’s gale-force winds extended out from its eye in a radius of 683 miles, about five times greater than a typical Atlantic hurricane. At its peak on October 12, the air pressure in the eye fell to 870mb (25.69”) the lowest ever measured at sea level on the planet, and the equivalent of what normal air pressure would be at an altitude of about 2,500 feet. Winds circulating around Tip’s eye were blowing at a sustained rate of 190 mph with gusts probably well over 200 mph. The eye wall extended up to 55,000 feet, where infrared temperatures were measured at an incredible –135°F. Fortunately, Tip never made landfall, although it took a shot at Guam, swerving at the last moment to the west and thus sparing the small and vulnerable island.

By October 18, Tip had accelerated towards the northwest and was rapidly losing power. By the time it brushed Japan on October 19 and 20, it was much tamer with the wind blowing in gusts at only 88 mph along the runways at Tokyo’s airport.

Super Typhoon Tip is reported having been the largest tropical storm ever observed anywhere in the world. Above is a graphic illustrating the storms size in comparison to the contiguous United States.

It is worthy to note that there have been at least 15 Pacific typhoons of greater intensity than Hurricane Wilma, the strongest hurricane of record in the Atlantic Basin.

Below is a list of the top ten most intense typhoons on record in the Pacific Basin north of the equator (note that there are no comprehensive records for Pacific Typhoons prior to 1959):

Fastest Intensification

Super Typhoon Forest formed in the Western Pacific in September 1983. At one point its central pressure fell an amazing 102mb in 24 hours, from 978mb (28.87”) to 876mb (25.86”). The storms winds increased from 75mph to 175mph during this same time period. This is the fastest 24-hour intensification of any tropical storm yet observed in the world.

Highest Measured Wind Speed in a Pacific Typhoon

A wind gust of 191mph was measured at a weather station on the island of Miyakojima in Japan’s Ryukyu Islands on Sept. 5, 1966 during the passage of super typhoon Cora. Higher wind speeds, of course, have been estimated in many other typhoons. A wind gust of 236mph was reported at Anderson AFB on Guam during the passage Typhoon Paka on Dec. 16, 1997. An investigation, however, discovered the instrument making the measurement was not reliable.

Deadliest Typhoon

The deadliest typhoon in modern history was that which struck Haiphong, Vietnam on Oct. 8, 1881. The storm surge flooded the city and surrounding low level areas resulting in the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people.

More recently, Typhoon Nina in August 1975 is estimated to have been responsible for 86,000 (official estimate) to 230,000 (unofficial) deaths in China as a result of flooding caused by the collapse of the Banqiao Dam in Henan Province. This disaster was kept as a state secret until the Chinese government in 2005 released details concerning such. It was kept secret because of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River that was promoted as a panacea for China’s flood wows. Most documents pertaining to the 1975 catastrophe are still secret and the Chinese government has successfully blocked web sites relating to the death toll even as I write this today (aside from their own sanctioned versions).

The reason is that the rainfall from Nina exceeded by a large margin that any dam in China is expected in a 2000-year return period. Those of you familiar with my book Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book will remember that I had mentioned (on page 121) all-time world record point rainfalls attributed to “Muduocaidang, Inner Mongolia, China ”of 33.07” in 6 hours, 41.34” in 8 hours, and 55.12” in 10 hours in August 1977”.

I made a trip to China several years ago in order to verify these fantastic world-record point rainfall records. I could find no reference to a site named ‘Muduocaidang’ in China or a reference to the extraordinary rainfalls of 1977 attributed to such. Now, with new evidence available, I realize that these precipitation figures were for August 1975 not August 1977, and were, in fact for a site near the Banqiao Dam in Henan Province.

The fact that such rainfall rates are unprecedented and, should such ever occur again, they would compromise the largest dam in the world (Three Gorges). That is why these records, and one of the greatest and deadliest natural catastrophes on record, have been kept secret until recently. Needless to say, should such an event recur in the Three Gorges Dam region, and the dam compromised by such, perhaps millions of lives would be lost. However, we can take some comfort in that the dam building technology of China is vastly superior to what it was in the 1970s.

It is possible that even deadlier storms have occurred in pre-modern times. A typhoon in July 1780 is reported to have killed 100,000 in Eastern Asia. The famous Hakata Bay Typhoon in 1281 destroyed Kublai Khan’s 2,200-ship invasion fleet headed for Japan drowning 45,000-65,000 of his army. This event caused the word kamikaze to enter the Japanese lexicon, its meaning being ‘divine wind’. Japan’s deadliest typhoon was that which struck Nagasaki on Sept. 17, 1828. The storm surge drowned at least 15,000.

Greatest Rainfall Reported in a Pacific Typhoon

A typhoon affecting Taiwan deposited 108.31” of rainfall in three days Oct. 17-19, 1967 at Xinliao. Of this, 65.88” reportedly fell in one calendar day on Oct. 17th. This figure has been considered controversial however. More recently 91.60” fell at Weilaoshan, Taiwan during 3 days Aug. 6-8, 2009. Of this 55.20” fell on the single day of Oct. 8th.

Most and Fewest Typhoons Reported During any Single Season

The busiest season for Western Pacific tropical storms was 1964 when a total of 39 storms were reported (plus an additional 5 tropical depressions). Of these 13 were tropical storms, 19 typhoons, and 7 super typhoons. The year with the most super typhoons was 1965 when 11 such were reported.

The quietest season was that of 2010 when only 14 tropical storms were recorded (and 5 tropical depressions).

Greatest Storm Surge in the Pacific Ocean as a result of a Typhoon

A storm surge of some 46 feet was reported to have swept over the Marshall Islands during a typhoon on June 30, 1905. This is considered most likely inaccurate since such a surge would have submerged the entire island affected, so how the height was determined remains a mystery. A storm surge of 40 feet inundated Tahiti on Jan. 13, 1903 drowning at least 1000 people.

A typhoon blasts Polynesia’s Arutua Atoll in 1983. Photo by Philippe Mazellier.

Next week I will wrap up this series on tropical storm superlatives with the details for tropical storms of the Indian Ocean and Australian region.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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3. reiven
12:30 PM GMT on October 02, 2011
Earth's ecosystems were able to adapt to the PETM because the warming was gradual; however, the warming we're causing today is about 10 times as fast resume company
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2. xiaobao
2:59 PM GMT on September 30, 2011
Thank you Dr Burt! Highly informative and interesting!!
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4:51 AM GMT on September 29, 2011
Great entry! Thank you Dr. Burt!
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.