Super Typhoon Halong is raging in the open waters of the western tropical Pacific Ocean right now, with satellite imagery estimating its peak winds at close to 190 mph. It’s every bit a Category 5 storm and then some, its extreme strength coming just three days after it drifted lazily as a tropical depression. Halong isn’t moving toward land, but its mesmerizing fury and terrifying beauty is capturing the attention of meteorologists worldwide.
Halong’s path to metastasizing into a monstrosity stemmed from seemingly innocuous origins Saturday, as an area of low pressure blossomed into a tropical depression several hundred miles east of the Northern Mariana Islands. Hours later, it bloomed into Tropical Storm Halong.
Halong got its act together gradually, ramping up into a Category 2 hurricane by Monday. That’s when all hell broke loose, the storm rapidly intensifying overnight into a Category 5-equivalent buzzsaw.
As of noon Tuesday, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated Halong’s intensity at 160 mph. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that may be conservative, and that Halong is still intensifying.
“The latest automated values from [the Advanced Dvorak Technique] have it up to ~165 knots!” wrote Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University. That 165 knots equals 190 mph; Hurricane Dorian, which ravaged the Bahamas in September, had maximum winds of 185 mph.
Klotzbach referred to the Advanced Dvorak Technique, a means to assign storm intensity remotely using just satellite observations. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center does not dispatch aircraft into typhoons.
This could put Halong into the top dozen or so tropical cyclones ever observed by weather satellite, based on values churned out by the Dvorak method. The so-called “satellite era” dates back to 1979.
The terrifying shots from above show extremely cold, high cloud tops raging about an ominous, warm eye.
Klotzbach did note that water temperatures in the region being traversed by Halong are slightly above normal, but not by a wide margin. “It’s just normally stinking hot in the western North Pacific!” he wrote.
It’s been a busy year for typhoons in the West Pacific. Barely a month ago, Hagibis leaped from a tropical storm to a Category 5-equivalent super typhoon in just 18 hours, intensifying at one of the fastest rates ever recorded.
Hagibis socked Japan thereafter as a Category 1 or 2 equivalent, but unloaded torrents of rainfall. More than three feet fell on Hakone in Kanagowa Prefecture in 24 hours, the widespread flooding wreaking havoc across Japan.
Back in February, another Super Typhoon reached Category 5 status. The storm, named Wutip, sideswiped Guam, bringing 4.21 inches of rain to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport on Feb. 23. Farther to the south, flash flooding struck Inarajan, which recorded a whopping 16.9 inches.
Three Category 5s in the west Pacific may sound bad, but it can be far worse; nine of them had spun up by this point in the year back in 1997.
Halong is the seventh super typhoon in the west Pacific this year, as well as the 13th typhoon. There have been 29 named storms.
The storm’s rapid rate of intensification is consistent with what climate scientists expect in a warming world. There is evidence that rapidly intensifying storms are already becoming more common in the North Atlantic Ocean, for example.
A 2017 study that examined modeled Atlantic storms showed an uptick in the number of storms that would rapidly intensify just before landfall in a warmer world. Another study, published in 2018, found that with continued global warming, more tropical cyclones are likely to undergo rapid intensification than in the past.
Halong is forecast to remain entirely out to sea and begin to weaken some in the next three days or so. In the meantime, though, waves near the storm’s center will top 30 to 40 feet.