'Pablo' a Category 5 supertyphoon: US experts

Posted at 12/04/2012 3:24 AM | Updated as of 12/04/2012 4:54 AM
A NASA Expedition 34 crew member aboard the International Space Station took this photo of Typhoon Pablo on December 2, 2012. Parts of the ISS orbital outpost are seen in the picture. NASA Johnson Space Center photo

'Pablo' could be strongest typhoon in Mindanao's history

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour), "Pablo" (international name Bopha) has reached supertyphoon status comparable to a Category 5 cyclone in the Western hemisphere, American meteorologists said Tuesday.

The tropical cyclone has rapidly intensified over the last 12 hours in the waters off the eastern Philippines, the US Navy and Air Force's Joint Typhoon Watch Center (JTWC) said in its latest advisory.

Pablo, which also has gusts reaching 170 knots (314kph), will only weaken after it makes landfall in the southern Philippines and cuts a swath through Central Mindanao, the JTWC said.

"The current intensity of 140 knots is based on congruent Dvorak estimates from PGTW (Guam Typhoon Warning Center), RJTD [Japan Meteorological Agency], and KNES, all of which support the recent rapid intensification and is additionally supported by a recent jump in the latest CIMMS satcon estimate of 141 knots," the Hawaii-based weather task force said.

Pablo's track similar to Sendong's

Other foreign weather agencies and meteorologists have been tracking Pablo for days.

Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder of Michigan-based commercial weather forecasting service Weather Underground, said the typhoon is following a similar track to last year's Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong), which hit Mindanao on December 16, 2011 and killed more than 1,200 people.

"Bopha is potentially a catastrophic storm for Mindanao," he said. "Mindanao rarely gets hit by typhoons, since the island is too close to the Equator, and the infrastructure of Mindanao is not prepared to handle heavy typhoon rains as well as the more typhoon-prone northern islands."

"Washi was merely a tropical storm, and Bopha is likely to hit at Category 4 or 5 strength, making it the strongest typhoon ever recorded in Mindanao," he warned in his blog.

"Bopha became a tropical depression unusually close to the Equator, at 3.6°N latitude. Tropical cyclones rarely form so close to the Equator, because they cannot leverage the Earth's rotation to get themselves spinning," he said.

Masters added that Pablo, which further intensified into a Category 5 typhoon on Monday at 7.4°N latitude, is the most southerly typhoon on record.

A NASA Expedition 34 crew member aboard the International Space Station captured this image of Typhoon Pablo on December 2, 2012. NASA Johnson Space Center photo

According to him, the previous most southerly typhoon was Titang (international name Kate), which struck Mindanao as a Category 4 storm in 1970. Titang killed at least 631 people.

"According to NOAA's Coastal Services Center, there have been only 4 previous typhoons of at least Category 4 strength to track within 200 nautical miles of Mindanao Island, dating back to 1945: Mike ("Ruping" ) in 1990, Ike ("Nitang") in 1984, Kate ("Titang") in 1970, and Louise ("Ining" ) in 1964," Masters added.

NASA: Pablo also bringing heavy rainfall

Two NASA satellites gathered data as they passed over Pablo on December 2, gathering data for forecasters, the US space agency said.

"Since Dec. 2, Bopha's maximum sustained winds have fluctuated up and down from its previous high of 155 mph and today, Dec. 3, the storm has reached its strongest point so far as a Category 5 typhoon on the Saffir-Simpson scale with sustained winds of 161 mph. Warnings are up for the Philippines as Bopha approaches," it added.

NASA's Terra satellite captured a visible image of Bopha. Meanwhile, its Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite captured rainfall rates, identified areas of heavy rainfall, and measured cloud heights.

The data gathered and analyzed showed areas of heavy rainfall, NASA said. "The heaviest rain was falling at a rate of more than 2 inches (50 mm) per hour."

As much as 80mm/hr of rain was also monitored falling in the eye of the typhoon and in intense rain bands spiraling around it, according to the space agency.

To compare, Sendong last year poured rainfall of over 50mm/hr (~2 inches) while  Ondoy dumped 56.83 mm/hr of rainfall on Metro Manila in September 2009.

Pablo reached reached Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Scale for the first time on December 3, NASA said.

"Over the last several days it peaked at a powerful Category 4 typhoon. On Dec. 3 at 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST, U.S.), Bopha had regained Super Typhoon status as maximum sustained winds increased to 140 knots (161 mph/259 kph)," it added. "Infrared satellite imagery shows a well-developed, intense system that has a 9 nautical-mile (10.3 mile/16.6 km) wide eye."

A member of the NASA Expedition 34 crew member aboard the International Space Station managed to take photos of Pablo while the cyclone was heading for the Philippines.

16 areas under storm signal no. 3

State weather bureau PAGASA, in its latest weather advisory on Pablo, classifies it still as a typhoon.

PAGASA said its readings show that Pablo is packing maximum sustained winds of 175 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 210 kph.

Under the Philippine agency's intensity category, a tropical cyclone only becomes a supertyphoon if it reaches maximum sustained winds greater than 200 kph.  

Pablo, which has rainfall amount from 15 to 30 mm per hour (heavy to intense) within its 600-kilometer diameter, was projected to make landfall near Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur early Tuesday morning.

It was just 50km off the eastern coast of Davao Oriental as of 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Public storm warning signal number 3 has been raised over Bukidnon, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Davao del Norte, Samal Island, Surigao del Norte, Siargao, Surigao del Sur, Dinagat, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Camiguin as the cyclone nears land, PAGASA said in its 11 p.m. advisory Monday.

Signal No. 2 has also been raised over the following areas:

Davao del Sur
Zamboanga del Norte
Zamboanga del Sur
Sultan Kudarat
Maguindanao
Southern Leyte
Bohol
Cebu
Camotes Island
Negros Oriental
Negros Occidental
Siquijor
Misamis Occidental

The following areas are under Signal No. 1:

Antique
Iloilo
Guimaras
Zamboanga Sibugay
Basilan
Sarangani
South Cotabato
Palawan
Calamian Islands
Eastern Samar
Western Samar
Leyte,
Biliran
Aklan
Capiz