The strongest cyclone on Earth devastated a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean late last week, and it’s about to make landfall again in the Philippines.
Typhoon Yutu will be a Category 2 when it makes landfall early Tuesday, Philippines time, with 100 mph sustained winds, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. However, the storm still has time in a favorable environment to strengthen slightly to a Category 3 before it plows into northeast Luzon.
The typhoon, locally known as Rosita, has passed through dry air over the past several days, which has helped weaken it. Now that it is approaching the Philippines, though, warmer water and higher humidity could allow Yutu to strengthen modestly, possibly to a Category 3, before landfall. Ocean heat content, which is a measure of how much energy is available for the storm, was exceptionally high under Typhoon Yutu on Monday morning. Furthermore, the environmental winds over the Philippines were weak; without the disruption of strong surrounding winds, the storm could intensify.
Even so, Yutu is much weaker than when it struck the Northern Mariana Islands — a U.S. territory — late last week as the equivalent of a Category 5. The storm’s 180 mph winds obliterated the island of Tinian and parts of the largest island, Saipan. At that intensity, Yutu tied Typhoon Mangkhut for the strongest cyclone of 2018, just 10 mph short of the strongest on record, Typhoon Haiyan.
Yutu destroyed the territory’s electrical grid and made its ports inaccessible, according to Reuters. Residents told the news outlet there was no potable water on the island, but they were hopeful that supplies could be delivered by plane.
In the Philippines, officials are preparing by issuing a Signal 3 alert, comparable to a hurricane warning, in 10 districts. Residents along the coast in Isabela and Cagayan were being moved to inland shelters Monday night, local time, according to Reuters.
Storm surge, which is when ocean water is driven over land by strong wind, is expected to reach eight feet immediately north of where the eye comes ashore. More than two feet of rain is forecast to fall in the highest elevations near the coast, which will lead to flash flooding and mudslides.
Typhoon Yutu is the 18th to make landfall in the Philippines this year. Typhoon Mangkhut devastated parts of Luzon when it made landfall in September. At least 25 people were killed and $180 million in crops were destroyed, the New York Times reported.
Yutu will cross into the South China Sea by Tuesday evening and begin a curve northward toward Hong Kong. The storm is expected to weaken significantly and miss the most populous areas of southeast China but will still bring flooding rain to parts of coastal Guangdong and Fujian later this week.