(NOAA/CIMSS/Univ. of Wisconsin)

Torrential rainfall, mudslides and power outages are all but imminent in Taiwan as Typhoon Soudelor roars ashore on Friday.

On Friday morning, eastern time, Soudelor was just over 100 miles east of Taiwan, and expected to make landfall directly over the center of the island on Friday evening. The huge typhoon has sustained winds of 125 mph — the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane. The storm’s hurricane-force winds extend up to 46 miles from the center which will sweep over the entire northeast coast of the island as Soudelor makes landfall.

Despite some gradual weakening over the past 24 hours, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is forecasting Soudelor maintain its category 3 intensity as it makes the eye makes the final approach toward Taiwan, fueled by very warm ocean water. Winds are already picking up in the far southern islands of Okinawa, Japan, and Taiwan. Sustained, hurricane-force winds are blasting Okinaway, and a gust of 101 mph was recorded at the Ishigaki Airport. The Taiwan capital of Taipei has already reached wind gusts of 50 mph.

[Video: Waves explode on the rocky shore of Taiwan]

Forecast models are predicting sustained winds of around 100 mph over the northern half of Taiwan, with some models suggesting wind speeds over 150 mph in the mountainous terrain.


(NOAA/GFDL)

Typhoon Soudelor’s most destructive impact may not come in the form of wind, but incredible rainfall totals that seem all but certain. Taiwan’s mountains will act to wring out the typhoon’s tropical moisture, with widespread totals approaching 3 feet in the northeast quadrant of the island. Localized totals might be much higher as Soudelor’s heaviest rainfall bands sweep over the island — over 14 inches has already fallen south of Taipei with 10 hours until landfall. Flash flooding and mudslides are imminent, and power outages will be widespread.

Taiwan is inherently prone to the destructive force of typhoons, reports Weather Underground’s Bob Henson. According to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau, a total of 383 typhoons either made landfall or caused disasters on the island between 1897 and 2003.

“Despite this experience, the nation remains vulnerable to flooding and landslides/mudslides, given its dense infrastructure and population and the unavoidable nature of its highly mountainous terrain,” writes Henson. “The most disastrous storm in recent years to strike Taiwan was 2009’s Typhoon Morakot, which caused more than 450 deaths and some $3.3 billion US in damage.”

But even so, Morakot was a much weaker storm than Soudelor threatens to be at landfall. “Morakot was only a Category 1 storm, with peak 1-minute sustained winds of 90 mph,” Henson writes, “but it moved in a leisurely cyclonic loop across northern Taiwan, prolonging the widespread intense rainfall.”

Typhoon Soudelor will rapidly deteriorate as it passes over Taiwan, weakening to the equivalent of a category 1 hurricane on Saturday as it moves over the Taiwan Strait and makes a second landfall in China near Quanzhou.