Typhoon Maria looking strong and organized as it heads toward coastal China. (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

After spending several days over the open oceans of the western Pacific, Typhoon Maria made landfall on the Japanese island of Miyakojima on Tuesday afternoon (local time) as the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane with wind gusts up to 125 mph.

The powerful storm will make a close pass to Taiwan late Tuesday into early Wednesday (local time) before accelerating toward the eastern coast of China, poised to make landfall Wednesday morning (local time) about 300 miles south of Shanghai.

Despite Maria’s Category 3 designation, the small island of Miyakojima (population 55,914) appears to have escaped the storm mostly unscathed.  Miyako Airport, located on the western half of the island, only recorded a maximum sustained wind of 65 mph (29.2 meters per second). Given the size and strength of the storm, it’s possible that parts of the island did experience Category 2 or 3 conditions, with winds closer to 100 mph, for a period of time.

Storm chaser Jim Edds, who intercepted the storm’s center as it passed over Miyakojima, reported violent conditions. “[W]ow, that back side eyewall was intense,”  he tweeted. “After the eye, it was slow to ramp up so I ventured down the street & of course Boom! whiteout conditions, crazy wind.”

Another storm chaser, James Reynolds, posted video to Twitter showing sheets of rain blowing horizontally:

As of Tuesday morning (Eastern time), Maria still remains a very strong typhoon, with maximum sustained winds of 112 mph and wind gusts up to 156 mph. The center of the storm is located about 80 miles to the southeast of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, moving quickly toward the northwest at about 20 mph.


The predicted path of Typhoon Maria has the storm passing just offshore of Taiwan later Tuesday, before making landfall along the east coast of China early Wednesday morning (local time). (Via Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

Even though the center of the storm is likely to remain offshore when it nears Taiwan, tropical storm force winds extend some 130 miles out from the center of the storm, which puts Taipei and surrounding municipalities well within reach of damaging winds and heavy rainfall. More than five inches of rain have already fallen in some locations, with heavy rainfall expected to last into early Wednesday morning (local time). In anticipation of Maria’s close pass, schools and offices in Taiwan closed, and hundreds of flights were canceled.

With the eye of Typhoon Maria remaining offshore, the rugged and mountainous terrain of Taiwan will only have a limited effect in weakening the storm. Tropical systems that pass directly over the island typically become more disorganized and weaker as the storms interact with large mountains situated on the eastern portion of the island.

All eyes will then turn toward the east coast of China, where Maria will probably make landfall as a powerful Category 2 or 3 storm early Wednesday morning (local time). The expected landfall along one of the most populated coastlines in the world has the potential to be a billion dollar disaster for China.

In the province of Fujian (population 36,894,216), massive preparations are already underway. All fishing boats were ordered to return to harbor by Tuesday at noon, and all personnel at offshore fish farms were told to retreat to land by 6 p.m. Tuesday (local time). The province also urged all of its coastal tourist resorts to close by 6 p.m. Tuesday.