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Philippines Typhoon History

By: Christopher C. Burt, 8:18 PM GMT on November 08, 2013

Philippines Typhoon History

As Jeff Masters blogged today Super Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda as it was named in the Philippines) was the most powerful typhoon on record to strike the nation and one of the, if not the, strongest land-falling tropical storm in modern world history. Here is a very brief review of Philippine’s tropical storm history.

No other country on earth is struck by tropical storms as often as the Philippines. On average about 5-10 storms actually strike the island chain each year, most often the northernmost island of Luzon. On Luzon typhoons normally graze the very northeastern portion of the island which, for good reason, is sparsely populated.

Western Pacific tropical storm paths for the period of 1980-2005. As one can the Philippines is obliterated under all the lines delineating the various tracks. Only the southern portion of Mindanao Island is visible. Wikicommons image.

Although it is still too soon to assess how many casualties Super Typhoon Haiyan may have caused, there have been at least ten typhoons that have resulted in at least 1000 fatalities over the course of the past few centuries in the Philippines. Below are tables for the top ten deadliest and top ten most destructive typhoons on record (source Wikipedia):

NOTE: There are some discrepancies with the figures in these two tables. Most notable is the death toll from Super Typhoon Bopha that most sources place closer to 1,900 rather than the 1,146 noted in the table above. This is because the 1,146 figure does not include about 800 missing (half of these fishermen) and never recovered.

It is almost certain that Super Typhoon Haiyan will become at least the most destructive typhoon in Philippines history although, hopefully, not its deadliest.

The deadliest tropical storm in Philippine history was Tropical Storm Uring (also known as Thelma) which traversed the central Philippine islands of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, and Panay along a path very similar to TS Haiyan. The storm was never a full-fledged typhoon and had peak sustained winds of only 95 kph (60 mph).

Track of Tropical Storm Uring (Thelma) in November 1991, the deadliest tropical storm in Philippine history.

Torrential rains and the ensuing floods were what caused the variously estimated death toll of 5,000-8,000. Entire towns were swept away. Ormoc City, on Leyte Island, lost 25% of its entire population to raging floodwaters.

In fact, most of the casualties during tropical storm events in the Philippines are the result of flooding rather than wind or storm surge. This was the case with Typhoon Bopha that struck Mindanao Island in early December last year (2012) as a super typhoon with 160 mph winds. Although much damage was wind-related, most of the fatalities were caused by floods and mud slides wiping out villages in the island’s mountainous interior. Bopha is generally considered to have been the 2nd deadliest tropical storm event in Philippine history (despite the Wikipedia list reproduced above) and also the most damaging such event.

The incredible destruction Super Typhoon Bopha wrought on the town of Cateel on Mindanao Island December 6, 2012. Photo by Sonny M. Day.

In the days to come the devastation that Typhoon Haiyan has caused will become clearer, but it is certain to rank as the most damaging if not deadliest tropical storm to ever strike the Philippines. The hope is that the storm’s quick passage has precluded massive flooding that, as I mentioned above, has historically been the cause of most tropical storm-related fatalities in the country.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Extreme Weather Tropical Storms

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