The tropics are quiet except for one storm. And unfortunately, that storm is a ginormous typhoon.
Typhoon Kammuri spun up a week ago and didn’t garner much attention as a run-of-the-mill typhoon in the west-central part of the Pacific Ocean. But it’s picked up serious steam over the past 24 hours right before making landfall in the Philippines. Though it’s expected to weaken in the coming days, Kammuri will still dump heavy rain across the country including in the capital city of Manila.
As of Monday night local time, Kammuri (or Tisoy, as the Philippines’ weather agency calls it) was packing sustained winds upwards of 210 kph with gusts up to 257 kph. That makes it the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. Just 24 hours earlier, the storm was only the equivalent of a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of 144 kph.
The 60 kph increase in winds in a 24-hour span is more than enough to count as rapid intensification, a term used for storms that see winds increase 55 kph in a 24-hour window. A rapidly intensifying storm is never a good thing, but particularly when it occurs right before landfall. That’s exactly what happened with Typhoon Kammuri, unfortunately.
The storm has cranked up right as it made landfall around midnight local time near Gubat on the southeast coast of the Philippines’ main island. The storm forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate late on Sunday. The explosive winds are certainly cause for alarm. But the real concern is the storm’s torrential rain, particularly on the flanks of Mayon, one of the most active volcanoes in the country.
Though the storm isn’t expected to pass directly over Mayon, it could still deliver heavy rain. That could in turn jar loose debris and lead to dangerous flash floods, mudflows of heavy volcanic ash known as lahars. That’s why the mandatory evacuation order is largely for people living in rivers and valleys downslope.
“You can just imagine the impact and the force when intense rains induce these volcanic materials to cascade down, triggering a collapse or breached river channels,” Cedric Daep, the head of the provincial Public Safety Emergency and Management Office, said according to the Philippines News Agency. “This happened during Super Typhoon Reming in 2006.”
Reming dropped two feet of rain on Mayon’s slopes, triggering lahars that killed upwards of 1,000 people and completely wiped out villages in their path. Volcanic ash can absorb huge amounts of water and has the ability to double its weight when wet, which can hinder recovery operations. (This was a major issue in Guatemala last year after a major eruption by Volcan del Fuego during the country’s rainy season.)
Kammuri doesn’t just pose a threat to Gubat and the areas around Mayon, though. The storm will continue to roll across the island of Luzon and could impact Manila with heavy rains and wind. The Joint Typhoon Warning Centre forecast showed the Philippines’ capital inside the cone of probability for a direct hit. But even a glancing blow could still soak the city.
The Philippines are the most tropical cyclone-prone country in the world. (Tropical cyclone is the generic name for typhoons and hurricanes.) The waters near the islands are warm all year, giving storms the fuel they need to thrive. The country also has an extensive coastline, making it vulnerable to tropical cyclone impacts. Still, summer is usually the most active time for typhoons while December is usually the start of the relatively quiet season for the island nation, according to records kept by the country’s weather service.
Climate change is likely playing a role in making storms like Kammuri more common. Findings in Nature Geoscience show that the number of typhoons rapidly intensifying near landfall is on the rise due to hotter oceans. Kammuri is, unfortunately, a textbook example of that.