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How Typhoon Haiyan Became Year's Most Intense Storm

Forecasters say it's about as strong as tropical cyclones can get on Earth
Friday, Nov. 8 2013

Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm seen in the satellite era, was spotted by the Japan Meteorological Agency's MTSAT on Nov. 7, 2013, as it headed toward landfall over the Philippines. (Credit: Japan Meteorological Agency/NOAA)

A monstrous storm has arisen in the Western Pacific, the likes of which haven't been seen for several years, meteorologists say. The storm, Super Typhoon Haiyan, became the year's most intense and is bearing down on the central Philippines, threatening to inflict massive damage and loss of life in the area.

The tropical cyclone (the blanket term for hurricanes and typhoons) packs winds up to 200 mph, according to estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with gusts up to 225 mph (360 km/h), said Brian McNoldy, a tropical weather expert at the University of Miami. This is the equivalent of a very strong Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, used to rank cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It's about as strong as tropical cyclones can get on Earth," McNoldy told LiveScience.

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with Weatherbell Analytics, wrote on Twitter that Haiyan has the strongest winds seen since the 1979 Super Typhoon Tip, the largest and most intense tropical cyclone on record. Haiyan's winds make it the strongest storm in the satellite era. [8 Terrible Typhoons]

Haiyan got so strong because "it has everything working for it," McNoldy said. First, it formed in the open ocean, and thus no land mass prevented it from forming a symmetrical circular pattern, which helps a cyclone form and gather steam, he said.

Second, ocean temperatures are incredibly warm, topping out at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). Just as important, the warm water also extends deep into the ocean, meaning that upwelling caused by the winds will not churn up cold water, which dampens cyclone power, McNoldy said. Tropical cyclones are basically giant heat engines, powered by the transfer of heat from the ocean to the upper atmosphere.

Third, there is very little wind shear in the area at this time, McNoldy said. Wind shear, a difference in wind speed or direction with increasing altitude, tears developing hurricanes apart, and prevents them from strengthening. Wind shear caused by westerly winds is the main reason why the Atlantic hurricane season featured few strong storms, and got off to a late start, weather experts say.

Haiyan is the 11th typhoon to form in the Western Pacific in the last seven weeks, which has been an "exceptionally active period," according to the UK Met Office News Blog. It is also the year's fifth super typhoon.

This is somewhat unusual, because the peak of typhoon season usually occurs about one month earlier, McNoldy said. Wind shear in the area likely prevented that from happening, and now the area has become active again due to the weakening of upper-level winds and persistent warm surface waters, he added.

In the Western Pacific, a tropical storm becomes a typhoon when its wind speeds reach 74 mph (119 km/h). They become super typhoons when their winds reach 150 mph (241 km/h), making them equivalent to strong Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, according to NOAA.

Haiyan is likely to push a large storm surge inland - at least 10 feet (3 meters) - along the eastern coast of the islands of Luzon and Samar, according to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog.

The storm is expected to make landfall near where a deadly magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the country less than one month ago, killing more than 200 people, according to news reports.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

PHOTOS ON SKYE: Typhoon Haiyan Slams Into Philippines

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Cory

"Second, ocean temperatures are incredibly warm, topping out at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). Just as important, the warm water also extends deep into the ocean, meaning that upwelling caused by the winds will not churn up cold water, which dampens cyclone power, McNoldy said. Tropical cyclones are basically giant heat engines, powered by the transfer of heat from the ocean to the upper atmosphere."

Hmmm...only one problem with this theory. The ocean has been warmer several times since December of 1997. Further, being warm has nothing to do with it. All that needs to be present is for the ocean temperatures to be warmer than the surrounding air temperature in the area to cause the cool air to sink into the eye of the storm. If we're to believe the global warmists, the air temperature is also warmer as well so, how warm the ocean is is irrelevant here. All that needs to be present is an area of low pressure and high pressure. Cool air sinks, warm air rises. Anyone with an elementary education should know this.

November 09 2013 at 7:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phil Benza

I just know it is Bush's fault. I realize he has been out of office for several years, but some people just linger on…..sand on………and on!!!

November 09 2013 at 7:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cindy

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Philippines.

November 09 2013 at 6:12 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
DanJay

The term, "cyclone," actually applies to any circular wind, not just hurricanes and typhoons. Anyone, who lives in Tornado Alley, like I did, can tell you that tornadoes and, even small whirlwinds, are also called cyclones.

November 08 2013 at 5:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RMS

So where are all the comments blaming global warming, the Democrats, the Republicans, Bush, Obama, etc. ????

November 08 2013 at 2:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to RMS's comment
Cory

Oh...don't worry, the gloBULL warming alarmists will be crawling out of the woodwork before you know it.

November 09 2013 at 7:39 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
AMedicGary

headline reads "how haiyan become ......" do you guys proof-read anything before it gets posted as a headline? ....... another great job, huffpoo.

November 08 2013 at 1:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
blissfully zen

Maybe it was powered by Fukushima Nuclear waste floating in the Pacific ocean.

November 08 2013 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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