|Above: Himawari-8 infrared image of Super Typhoon Wutip taken at 7:00 am EST Saturday, February 23, 2019. At the time, Wutip was a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds--the strongest February typhoon on record. Image credit: NOAA/RAMMB.|
Super Typhoon Wutip underwent an impressive burst of rapid intensification on Saturday morning, topping out as Category 4 super typhoon with a central pressure of 925 mb and sustained winds of 155 mph—just short of Category 5 strength. This makes Wutip the strongest Northwest Pacific typhoon ever observed in February, as well as the strongest tropical cyclone anywhere north of the equator in February.
According to NOAA’s Historical Hurricane Tracks database, only seven January and February Category 4 or Category 5 typhoons have been recorded in the Northwest Pacific since records began in the late 1940s. Wutip is tied with Super Typhoon Rose of January 1957 as the second strongest typhoon to form in these two months. The only stronger typhoon ever observed so early in the year was Super Typhoon Ophelia, which peaked as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds on January 13, 1958.
The previous strongest February typhoon on record was Super Typhoon Higos, which hit 150 mph winds on February 10, 2015.
Wutip rapidly intensified from a Category 3 storm with 120 mph winds to a top-end Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds in 24 hours, under conditions that appeared marginal for rapid intensification: moderate wind shear of 15 – 20 knots combined with sea surface temperatures that declined from 29°C (84°F) to 27°C (81°F) along Wutip's track. These water temperatures are near average for this time of year. As of Saturday afternoon (EST), satellite images showed that Wutip had likely reached its peak intensity, and I do not expect Wutip to become a Category 5 storm. The typhoon appeared to be undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle, and the intensity of the eyewall thunderstorms was waning.
Wutip made its closest pass to Guam on Saturday morning (EST), passing about 180 miles to the island’s southwest. Winds at the Guam Airport peaked at 39 mph--minimal tropical storm force—at 11:54 am Saturday (local time), and gusted as high as 56 mph during the day. The typhoon dumped 5 – 12” of rain over Guam as of Saturday afternoon, with another 3 – 5” expected. Waves near the coast reached 20 feet on Saturday afternoon.
By Sunday, when Wutip will be swinging to the north-northwest, passing about 250 miles to the west of the Mariana Islands, the storm will experience increasing wind shear and decreasing SSTs, which should cause slow weakening. Guam is used to strong typhoons, and the close brush by Wutip should not cause a large amount of damage.
Thanks go to Jasper Deng for alerting me to this unusual event.