Tourists and residents in Guam and the Mariana Islands should rush preparations to completion immediately and heed any instructions from local authorities. A warning of a potentially disastrous impacts was issued as Typhoon Vongfong moves toward Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands while it continues to strengthen. The impact should be most felt this Monday local time.
In a statement issued Sunday morning local time (Saturday evening U.S. East Coast time), the NWS office warned that “devastating damage is expected” on the island of Rota, which lies about 45 miles northeast of Guam in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth.
Rota also known as the “Peaceful Island”, is the southernmost island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the second southernmost of the Marianas Archipelago. It lies approximately 40 nautical miles (74 km) north-northeast of the United States territory of Guam. Songsong village is the largest and most populated followed by Sinapalo village (Sinapalu).
The bulletin, eerily reminiscent of one issued by the NWS New Orleans office before Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, includes these ominous descriptions of potential destruction from winds forecast to gust as high as 130 mph:
“Collapse of some residential structures will put lives at risk. Airborne debris will cause extensive damage. Persons or animals struck by the wind blown debris will be injured or killed. Electricity and water will be unavailable for days and perhaps weeks after the storm passes. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted. Fallen trees may cut off residential areas for days to weeks.”
The bulletin said the islands of Tinian and Saipan to the north, as well as Guam to the south, could expect damage of a less extreme nature based on the current forecast.
Typhoon warnings remain in effect for both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Vongfong is following closely in the footsteps of Typhoon Phanfone, which passed near Guam as a tropical storm and is now affecting Japan as a strong typhoon
Vongfong was first designated a tropical depression early Thursday, local time, and is slowly gaining strength about 300 miles east-southeast of Guam. According to the U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Vongfong strengthened into a typhoon Saturday.
The latest bulletin from the National Weather Service in Guam says Vongfong now has maximum sustained wind speeds of 80 mph, similar to a Category 1 hurricane.
The Japan Meteorological Agency, on the other hand, is still calling Vongfong a “strong tropical storm” with 10-minute sustained winds of 70 mph. (The U.S. uses a 1-minute wind-averaging standard, generally resulting in higher estimated and reported velocities, but 74 mph is the threshold for becoming a typhoon by both standards.)
Vongfong will maintain a northwest track through the weekend under the steering influence of a subtropical high pressure aloft to its north. Its relatively quick forward motion — between 15 to 20 mph — will take it quickly toward Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
With low vertical wind shear (change in wind speed and/or direction with height), impressive outflow (winds in the upper levels spreading apart from the center, favoring upward motion and thunderstorms) and warm western Pacific water, Vongfong will continue to intensify over the next several days.
On its present track, the center of Vongfong would reach the longitude of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands sometime Monday local time (Sunday afternoon mainland U.S. time). While the most likely forecast track of the center places it near the island of Rota Monday, there is still a little bit of uncertainty even this close to the event. Furthermore, tropical cyclones are not points, but have wind fields extending from the center of circulation.
In this case, Vongfong’s wind field is quite compact, with tropical storm-force winds no more than 80 miles from the center, and typhoon-force winds confined very close to the center. As a result, slight differences in the cyclone’s track could lead to a big difference in actual weather conditions at any given location.
Further complicating matters is the amount of strengthening between now and the typhoon’s passage over the islands; more strengthening not only means higher winds, but potentially a larger radius of damaging winds away from the center of Vongfong.
Any southward deviation of Vongfong’s track may bring stronger winds, possibly to typhoon force, over Guam Monday. Bands of heavy rain, some surge flooding and high surf are also threats with Vongfong Monday.
After passing the Mariana Islands, Vongfong will then track over roughly the same patch of western Pacific water Typhoon Phanfone churned up.
It seems a good bet Vongfong will intensify into another formidable typhoon before potentially threatening parts of Japan late next week.
Once again it may come down to how sharp and soon a turn to the north and northeast occurs to determine if and how much of a strike Japan has to bear from this latest system late next week.
It is far too soon to speculate on potential impacts to Japan from Vongfong. Stay with The Weather Channel and weather.com for more on this potentially dangerous system.