For the first time in more than a decade, Earth fueled two Category-5-equivalent storms early Tuesday. These two behemoths are located on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean basin: Hurricane Walaka to the northeast and Super Typhoon Kong Rey to the west.
Early Tuesday, both tempests packed winds over 157 mph, becoming the first duo to achieve Category 5 winds simultaneously since 2005.
The two storms weakened very slightly by Tuesday afternoon, dropping back to Category 4.
Walaka has winds up to 150 mph, a mere 7 mph below the Category 5 threshold. Located about 400 miles west of Honolulu, Walaka has prompted a high surf advisory for nearly everyone in the Hawaiian archipelago but the Big Island. Waves of 12 to 16 feet are possible. The storm is far enough away that Hawaii will avoid more-direct effects.
While Walaka’s center is far from any inhabited land, the National Hurricane Center has issued a dire warning for the Johnston Atoll, a wildlife refuge that is unincorporated and administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The zero-population, four-island territory makes up a mere 1.03 square miles but is likely to sustain a direct hit from a 140 mph eyewall. The former military base was once used as a nuclear weapons testing site and a place to store dioxin-loaded agent orange.
Averaged globally, about five storms worldwide achieve Category 5 status annually, according to a tweet by Ryan Maue of WeatherModels.com. About a quarter of all major tropical cyclones -- equivalent to Category 3 or stronger -- make it to Category 5. That said, Walaka appears to mainly be a storm for the fish. Despite an exceptionally low surface air pressure, about the same as at the top of Oahu, the vacuum-like cyclone won’t pose much of a threat to land. By Wednesday, it is expected to begin a rapid weakening trend.
Kong Rey, meanwhile, has also briefly tempered to Category 4 status. About 300 miles east-northeast of Manila, the massive typhoon features sustained winds of 155 mph and gusts to 190 mph. The storm is projected to gradually weaken over the next few days, arriving in South Korea as an 85 mph cyclone Saturday.
Kong Rey is a sparky storm, with considerable lightning activity being picked up in its southern eyewall. The Korea Meteorological Administration estimates at least a 70 percent chance that Seoul will encounter gusts up to hurricane force by the weekend.
Odd as it may seem, things could be worse. On Sept. 11, 1961, three simultaneous Category 5s roamed two ocean basins. Carla spun mischievously across the Atlantic, while Pamela and Nancy cranked through the Pacific.
It has been an exceptionally active year for storms in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Nine major hurricanes, rated Category 3 or higher, have formed -- tied for the most on record. The ocean basin has racked up more than double the amount of accumulated cyclone energy it would normally see by this time of year.