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Size-challenged storm: Midget typhoon in West Pacific?

Most everything we’ve discussed this week has been big: from the sprawling heat wave in the eastern U.S. to the millions of square miles of vanishing snow and ice in the Arctic.  But, closer to the equator, one weather feature stands it for its diminutive status: a possible “midget typhoon” in the western Pacific.


Possible midget typhoon in western Pacific (CIMSS Satellite Blog)

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center defines a “midget” typhoon (or tropical cyclone) as one whose discernible low pressure area spans no more than two degrees latitude which is about 140 miles across, or roughly the distance from D.C. to Philadelphia.

The possible midget cycling across western Pacific certainly meets that criteria as its core is probably no more wider than half a degree of latitude and its overall circulation might span one degree.


Animation of possible “midget typhoon” in western Pacific. Visual satellite imagery reveals day time view, switches to infrared imagery at night. (Scott Bachmeier, CIMSS)

It’s not clear if this little swirl meets the other criteria of a typhoon: 74 mph sustained winds.  I think it’s doubtful.

In any event, a quick Google search yields little information on these midget storms.  I wasn’t able to find an example of one which caused significant destruction, though the American Meteorological Society definition  suggests they’re efficient: they can pack stronger winds with higher pressures than larger storms.

But Tom Yulsman, blogger for Discover Magazine, explains why these tiny storms may not deliver the punch of larger storms with the same strength:

….a large, lumbering cyclone with winds of equal intensity can still exact a much higher destructive toll upon landfall. That’s because it will blast a much larger area with high winds and for a longer duration. Also, because its winds cover a much broader swath of ocean, its “fetch” is greater, and this typically results in more intense storm surge.

UPDATE, 4:20 p.m.: A reader has alerted me to Cyclone Tracy from 1974, a midget storm (gale force winds extended just 30 miles from the center) that struck Darwin, Australia on Christmas Day, 1974 and was extremely destructive. It killed 71 people and 70 percent of the buildings in Darwin, according to Wikipedia.

This storm, so small it’s hard to even detect at times on satellite imagery, is currently somewhere east of Taiwan and the northern Philippines.  I don’t think either of those locations need to be on high alert about this compact little curiosity, but it’s worth watching.

Related reading:

“Midget typhoon” over the West Pacific Ocean?

A “Midget” Typhoon? Who Knew?

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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