Super Typhoon Maysak

by | April 1, 2015

Visible image of Maysak when it was a category 5 storm from MODIS on March 31. Image credit:NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team


Right now in New York City it is 48 F, still cold (at least to me, since I’ve only lived in Taipei and Miami), but we know spring is finally stepping in. In the meantime, for people in another part of the world, the western north Pacific, nature has already given them a sign of summer. Super Typhoon Maysak, a new record-setting storm, just passed north-east of Yap island with category-5 strength maximum winds yesterday, and continues heading toward the Philippines. According to the operational best-track data (the best estimated storm intensity you can get while it is happening), Maysak’s maximum 1-minute sustained surface wind speed is 155 to 160 knots, or about 180 miles per hour.

Maysak formed on March 27. From the visible satellite image (link below, which I like a lot), we see that Maysak had well-organized and active convection from the very beginning. Within a day, a clearly spiral-shaped cloud was embedded in a circularly symmetric system. On 29 March, there is a hint of an eye. At that time, Maysak was a strong category 1 storm. The eye of Maysak opened on March 30, as it reached category 2 strength. Then, in just one night, it went through rapid intensification, and became a record-breaking category 5 March storm (strongest typhoon on record before April)

A category 5 storm definitely qualifies as extreme weather, but this is not the main reason why Maysak is special. Its early timing is. Compared to the hurricane season here in the Atlantic, typhoon season in the western north Pacific starts early, but usually not until late April or early May. Overall, more typhoons become intense storms than do hurricanes. However, such a strong storm in spring is not common. From historical data, ~2% of tropical storms reached their lifetime maximum intensities in March, and only one of them was a category 5 storm, that being super typhoon Mitag in 2002. Actually, there have been only 6 category 5 storms before May since 1945.

Why is such a rare event happening now? It is due to a combination of multiple weather and climate phenomena. Maysak’s formation might be related to a strong Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO, a mode of tropical atmospheric variability with a 30-90 day time scale that helps organize tropical convection and spin up storms) this month. Maysak grew over especially warm water in the Pacific (1 to 1.5 C higher than the climatology), which has something to do with the El Nino event that was just officially confirmed to be happening a month ago. Additionally, Maysak moved fast, which reduced the chance of its being weakened by its own self-induced ocean cooling, and was embedded in a moist and low shear environment. Does that mean people in the western north Pacific are having another super typhoon soon (there is a tropical depression, WP99, in the basin now)? I am leaving that call to the people with authority, the forecasters. Just say, the forecast of MJO for the coming April does not suggest it will be as strong as it was in March, but El Nino is still going on. We will see.

To end my post today, Maysak is continuing to move toward the northern part of the Philippines, but it is forecast to weaken to a category 2 strength typhoon while making landfall, slightly good news to Filipinos.

This website shows the beauty of the storm:


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