The United States was hit by a barrage of wild weather over the weekend. Tornadoes carved through the South, a blizzard buried the northern plains, and flash floods drenched the Tennessee Valley. But amid the busy weekend, the United States also was struck by something you might not be expecting at this time of the year: a typhoon.
The U.S. territory of Guam was sideswiped by the beastly storm — Wutip — on Saturday. It was whirling Monday morning about 300 miles west of the Mariana Islands with 150 mph sustained winds coiled tightly around its foreboding eye. The Category 4-equivalent typhoon is packing gusts topping 180 mph. Early Monday, it peaked at Category 5-equivalent strength, making it the strongest February typhoon on record.
It is also the longest-lived February typhoon on record and the first February super typhoon in more than a century.
The powerhouse storm is like an atmospheric whirlpool, vacuuming air up and out its center. The storm’s barometric pressure fell to 915 millibars — 27.02 inches — the air pressure if you climbed to the height of two Empire State buildings.
February typhoons are incredibly unusual. The last such storm to skirt Guam was Irma in 1953. That one dropped 7.88 inches of rain in 24 hours. The island dodged a bullet again this time, as the Guam Daily Post reports no serious damage or injury occurred.
But it was a wet storm, with 4.21 inches of rain at Guam’s Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport Saturday, triggering a rare flash flood warning and setting a rainfall record for the date.
“There was some flash flooding on the southeastern part of the island,” said Mike Middlebrook, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Tiyan, Guam. “Inarajan had some issues and picked up more than a foot.”
An automated sensor in the town of Inarajan recorded 16.9 inches over the weekend — its highest two-day rain total on record. Despite the hefty totals, Middlebrook said it could have been worse, adding that “we were just on the fringe of this storm.”
There is a silver lining: Guam desperately needs the rain. Scant rainfall in recent weeks has made water planning an issue for the Mariana Islands, including Guam. A statement by the National Weather Service on Feb. 11 painted a drought-stricken picture, stating residents “should plan for drier conditions over the next several weeks and perhaps months.”
Middlebrook said: “We were close to the point of having to issue fire weather watches. The rain was probably beneficial.”
The Mariana Islands are no stranger to typhoons. Four months ago, Super Typhoon Yutu ravaged Saipan, eerily swallowing the island in its eye after lashing it with sustained 180 mph winds. It became the second-strongest hurricane to make landfall on U.S. soil.
“Tinian was flattened,” Middlebrook said of the island southwest of Saipan. “I was watching it on satellite that night. I’ll tell you what — it’s horrible to be helpless and watching something like that as it’s about to hit people. But they’re doing okay now.”
This time around, no land masses look to be in harm’s way as Wutip continues to churn over open waters. The Joint Typhoon Warming Center estimates it will slowly weaken, remaining at or above hurricane-equivalent strength through midweek before dissipating into a tropical depression on Thursday well southeast of Taiwan.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated Typhoon Wutip would dissipate southeast of Taiwan, China instead of simply Taiwan. This has been amended.