On Tuesday morning, Super Typhoon Meranti became the strongest storm on Earth so far in 2016. Inside the eye wall, the wind roared at a constant 185 mph. That made Meranti the second-strongest typhoon on record in the Northwest Pacific. The only storm that was stronger — by a mere 5 mph — was Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013.
In its height, the storm’s eye passed directly over Itbayat, north of the Philippines. The entire, tiny island could be seen through the typhoon’s clear eye early Tuesday afternoon. This means that Itbayat, which had a population around 3,000 in 2010, took two direct hits from the super typhoon’s eye wall, which is where the strongest winds are located.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no one knows what happened on Itbayat. But PAGASA, the Philippine agency akin to the National Weather Service, told a Channel NewsAsia reporter that a military vessel could make the trek to Itbayat to provide aid to survivors:
Pagasa officer Romeo Ganal Jr told Channel NewsAsia that there had been no communication at all from the Pagasa Itbayat satellite station since midnight of Sep 13. There are currently no flights over the area as flight routes have been altered.
With no flights available, a plan has been drawn up for a Civil Defence team to use either a Coast Guard or Navy vessel to go on a fact finding and needs assessment exercise to Itbayat.
Right now there are no more details about when the team will depart, but Pagasa officer Ganal said more information might be available later on in the day.
On Tuesday evening, Meranti’s eye passed less than 20 miles south of Taiwan. Even without a direct landfall, the super typhoon unleashed wind gusts over 100 mph. In Penghu County, an archipelago west of Taiwan, the wind gusted to 134 mph. Hengchun township reported gusts to 113 mph. The Taiwan weather agency said that it was the strongest storm in the township in their 120 years of record-keeping. Gusts reached 112 mph at Kaohsiung International Airport.
— Bernadette Woods P. (@BernadetteWoods) September 14, 2016
Wind gusts in southern Taiwan topped 100 mph in several locations as the center of Meranti passed by just to the south. This includes 112 mph at Kaohsiung International Airport and 113 mph in Hengchun.
Pingtung, Taitung and Hualien counties all reported one-day rainfall totals over 19 inches. The mountainous Taiwu Township measured an incredible 31 inches.
Now in the South China Sea, Typhoon Meranti is the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, and it’s headed toward China. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center expects the center of the storm to make landfall near Xiamen, China — a port city with a population over 3.5 million — on Wednesday afternoon Eastern time. The typhoon will be a Category 3 or 4 when it makes landfall.
Even though the storm has weakened since it swept by Taiwan, the most dangerous impacts could actually be felt in China. Because its eye remained over warm water, Meranti only slightly weakened after the interaction with Taiwan’s mountains. Weather Underground’s Bob Henson remarked Tuesday that Xiamen is particularly vulnerable.
“Should Meranti strike just south of Xiamen, that city and its major port would be at risk of surge impacts,” Henson wrote. “Given the mountainous terrain of China’s Fujian province, we can expect widespread torrential rainfall as a weakening Meranti slows down and grinds its way inland.”
— James Reynolds (@EarthUncutTV) September 14, 2016