A satellite image of Super Typhoon Trami on Sept. 24, 2018, moving northwest toward Taiwan and southern Japan. (Japan Meteorological Agency)

After Super Typhoon Mangkhut blew through the Philippines, things didn’t take long to pick back up in the west Pacific. Another typhoon rapidly intensified over the weekend, rocketing from a tropical storm to the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane in 24 hours. Super Typhoon Trami is forecast to strengthen even more to the equivalent of a Category 5 on Monday evening Eastern time and could stay at that strength as it approaches Taiwan and the far southern islands of Japan later this week.

The behemoth storm had sustained winds of 150 mph Monday afternoon along the inside edge of its razor-sharp eye wall. The wind places Trami in Category 4 status, but the storm has little holding it back, and the forecast is tricky.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency predicts the storm will hover just above the threshold for “Super Typhoon” status, whereas the Joint Typhoon Warning Center based in Honolulu is calling for the storm to explode in intensity. By Tuesday morning local time, Trami could boast sustained winds of 165 mph with gusts approaching 200 mph. That’s nearly as strong as Mangkhut, the super typhoon that just slammed the Philippines and ravaged Hong Kong.


Track forecast for Super Typhone Trami as of Monday. (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

Earlier forecasts suggested that the Taiwanese capital of Taipei could take a direct hit from Trami. The storm has since trended farther north and looks to be on a slightly safer path that would involve a slow meandering northwestward between Taiwan and southern Japan.

That said, a few smaller land masses are in play — including the Japanese island of Miyakojima, home to more than 50,000 people. The city may face a dead-on impact when the storm arrives Friday. By then, Trami’s forward motion will slow to a crawl, and extreme eyewall winds could batter the island for hours. The storm will eventually make a run for Shanghai while weakening. The Philippines — where the storm is known locally as Paeng — is in the clear for this one.

The storm underwent a breathtaking eyewall replacement cycle late Monday night Eastern time, its pinhole eye shriveling up before giving way to massive central clearing.

All the while, “trochoidal wobbles” nudged the system north. These remarkable oscillations appear as little northward jogs on infrared satellite imagery, the elegant “dance” of a maturing cyclone. Research into these unusual sidesteps suggests it may be a result of “vorticity mixing,” a distribution of rotational energy pent up within the storm’s center. When a system intensifies quickly enough, it sometimes needs to shuffle its stored spin energy, causing the storm to teeter. Just as a spinning top wobbles in miniature loops, so do the strongest of storms.

Trami is currently exhibiting the classic buzz saw shape, a surefire sign of a storm you don’t want to mess with. Its 60-mile-wide eye is wide enough to swallow New York City, Houston or Atlanta, or engulf all of Rhode Island.

If it seems Trami spun up fast, that’s because it did. Just four days ago, the system was a rather clunky, disorganized tropical storm. It quickly garnered energy, undergoing rapid intensification Sunday. Mangkhut did the same thing last week. The central Philippine Sea is known for boosting storm strength in a hurry. The Kuroshio Current — the Pacific’s equivalent of the Gulf Stream — snakes right through the heart of the Philippine Sea. Faster and transporting more water than our Atlantic current counterpart, the Kuroshio Current is known for its bathwater-like temperatures and “warm core” whirlpool-like eddies. These warm pools of water can sometimes provide extra fuel for explosive storm growth and have been tied in recent years to speeding the development of a storm.