The Strongest Storm On Record?


Last night, Nate Cohn compared Super Typhoon Haiyan, which just mauled the Philippines, to Katrina:

So how strong is Haiyan? Based on satellite imagery, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimates that Haiyan is… perfect, therefore possessing maximum sustained winds of 195 mph. Those maximum sustained winds are 20 mph faster than Hurricane Katrina at its peak, 5 mph faster than any previous storm. Based on the satellite images, Haiyan may be the strongest in the satellite era.

I’ve been watching hurricanes and typhoons for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anything like Haiyan (with the possible exception of Super Typhoon Angela, but, that was 18 years ago and I don’t remember it well.) It makes Hurricane Katrina look like a typical storm.

Even weather-wonk Jeff Masters is amazed:

After spending 48 hours at Category 5 strength, the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in world history, Super Typhoon Haiyan, has finally weakened to a Category 4 storm. With top sustained winds of 155 mph, Haiyan is still an incredibly powerful super typhoon, but has now finished its rampage through the Central Philippine Islands, and is headed across the South China Sea towards Vietnam. Satellite loops show that Haiyan no longer has a well-defined eye, but the typhoon still has a huge area of intense thunderstorms which are bringing heavy rains to the Central Philippines. I’ve never witnessed a Category 5 storm that made landfall and stayed at Category 5 strength after spending so many hours over land, and there are very few storms that have stayed at Category 5 strength for so long.

He later writes, “Wind damage on the south shore of Samar Island in Guiuan (population 47,000) must have been catastrophic, perhaps the greatest wind damage any place on Earth has endured from a tropical cyclone in the past century.” Even though no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change, John Vidal notes that the warming planet plays a role:

We don’t yet know the death toll or damage done, but we do know that the strength of tropical storms such as Haiyan or Bopha is linked to sea temperature. As the oceans warm with climate change, there is extra energy in the system. Storms may not be increasing in frequency but Pacific ocean waters are warming faster than expected, and there is a broad scientific consensus that typhoons are now increasing in strength.