9:45 p.m. update (EST): Haiyan made landfall in the central Philippines earlier this evening (early morning in the Philippines). With estimated maximum sustained winds of 195 mph, it is thought to be the strongest storm to ever make landfall anywhere in the world in modern records.

3:00 p.m. update (EST): The Joint Typhoon Warning Center has increased its estimate of Haiyan’s maximum sustained winds to 195 mph with gusts to 235 mph. The storm is now within a few hours of landfall in the central Philippines at peak intensity as among the most powerful storms witnessed anywhere in modern times. Widespread destruction, unfortunately, seems inevitable.

Interactive tracking map (click on layers for different information overlays)

From noon: Less than 12 hours from a devastating impact with the central Philippines (Friday morning local time), Super typhoon Haiyan has strengthened to mind-boggling levels. It is now among the most intense storms to form on the planet in modern records.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) estimates maximum sustained winds are 190 mph, a marked increase from even Wednesday, when it reached Category 5 intensity, the top of the scale for tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes and typhoons).

Given the storm’s power and proximity to the Philippines, even if the storm weakens modestly prior to landfall, catastrophic effects are unavoidable.

“The latest forecast track by the JTWC shows Haiyan passing very near Tacloban, a city of a quarter million people, and Cebu, a city of nearly one million people,” writes meteorologist Eric Holthaus, at Quartz.

The ferocious storm, known as Yolanda in the Philippines, poses three clear and present dangers to life and property:

1) Storm surge: Haiyan’s wind and waves will push ashore a wall of water, likely exceeding 10 feet just north of the center. This will lead to devastating coastal inundation and flooding of low lying areas.

Quartz’s Holthaus adds this detail:

The country’s meteorological service, PAGASA, also supports a storm surge prediction model (appropriately named project NOAH) that estimates storm surge could be up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) in Leyte, where the storm will first make landfall. A storm surge of this magnitude—rare for the Philippines—would be especially devastating for coastal areas.

2) Violent winds: Close to the storm center, sustained winds will exceed 100 mph with gusts over 150 mph possible, damaging or destroying all but the most well-built structures. Isolated cases of 200+ mph gusts – comparable to winds inside a violent EF4 tornado – cannot be ruled out.

3) Torrential rain: Four to eight inches or more rain are likely along Haiyan’s path, with greater amounts in elevated terrain. Devastating flash flooding and mudslides are likely.

CNN reports massive preparation efforts are underway in the Philippines, and thousands of residents have been evacuated.

The president of the Philippines Benigno S. Aquino III warned of the “calamity our countrymen will face in these coming days” in a speech Thursday, CNN says.

Place in history

Haiyan has joined an elite club among the strongest cyclones to form on Earth. Its strength is being estimated using satellite imagery, so it’s difficult to tell exactly where it ranks but we are confident it is in the top 20, at least.

It’s estimated central pressure is 899 mb but it could be lower. The lower the pressure the stronger the storm. Since 1987, there have been only four storms in the western Pacific with a central pressure below 899 mb (Megi in 2010, 885 mb; Flo in 1990 890 mb; Ruth in 1991 895 mb; and Yuri in 1991 895 mb)

An unusually active typhoon season?

While the Atlantic had a very quiet tropical season, the western Pacific has been on the active side. This year, 30 named storms have formed and 5 super typhoons, which is slightly above average, but nothing out of the ordinary. On average, the western Pacific gets 27 named storms.

The most active season in terms of number of named storms in the western Pacific was 1964 (39 storms), but the largest number of super typhoons was in 1965 (there were 11).

The season was quiet (like in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic) until about mid-September, and hasn’t taken a breather since then. On average, approximately 30 percent of all tropical cyclones in the western Pacific occur between mid-September and mid-November, but this year, about 45 percent of the season’s tropical cyclones occurred in that two-month window (since the season is still ongoing, that number could fluctuate a bit). So, it’s not that the season is unusually active, but it is getting active later than normal.

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