Florence, Mangkhut are as dif­fer­ent as wa­ter and wind

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - BY SETH BORENSTEIN

WASH­ING­TON — Na­ture ex­presses its fury in sundry ways. Two deadly storms — Hur­ri­cane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut — roared ashore on the same day, half a world apart, but the way they spread dev­as­ta­tion was as dif­fer­ent as wa­ter and wind.

Storms in the west­ern Pa­cific gen­er­ally hit with much higher winds and the peo­ple who live in their way are of­ten poorer and more vul­ner­a­ble, Prince­ton Univer­sity hur­ri­cane and cli­mate sci­en­tist Gabriel Vec­chi said Satur­day. That will likely de­ter­mine the type of de­struc­tion.

Mangkhut made land­fall Fri­day on the north­east­ern tip of Lu­zon is­land in the Philip­pines with top-of-the-scale Cat­e­gory 5 winds of 165 mph. Florence had weak­ened to a Cat­e­gory 1 storm with 90 mph winds by the time it ar­rived at North Carolina’s coast.

Yet a day af­ter land­fall the faster-mov­ing Mangkhut was back out over open wa­ter — weak­ened, but headed across the South China Sea to­ward China. Florence, mean­while, was still plod­ding across South Carolina at a pace slower than a nor­mal per­son walks. By Satur­day morn­ing, it had al­ready dumped more than 30 inches of rain, a record for North Carolina.

Ex­perts say Mangkhut may well end up be­ing the dead­lier storm. As of Satur­day af­ter­noon, the death count in the Philip­pines was a bit higher, although still far be­low that of other storms that have hit the dis­as­ter­prone is­land na­tion. And with Mangkhut now headed to­ward the densely pop­u­lated south­east coast of China, it is likely to cause more death and de­struc­tion. But Florence’s wa­tery in­sured dam­age to­tal will even­tu­ally be higher, Ernst Rauch, head of cli­mate re­search for the world’s largest rein­surer Mu­nich Re, told Ger­man me­dia.

That’s be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of ge­og­ra­phy, cli­matic con­di­tions and hu­man fac­tors.

The west­ern Pa­cific has two-and-a-half times more storms that reach the min­i­mum hur­ri­cane strength of 74 mph. It has three-and-a-half times more storms that reach ma­jor hur­ri­cane strength of 111 mph, and three times more ac­cu­mu­lated en­ergy out of those hur­ri­canes, an in­dex that mea­sures not just strength and num­ber of storms but how long they last, ac­cord­ing to more than 65 years of storm data .

So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the west­ern Pa­cific and 10 in the At­lantic, both re­gions more than 30 per­cent busier than av­er­age years. Hur­ri­canes and ty­phoons are the same type of storm; both are trop­i­cal cy­clones, but those that oc­cur in the Pa­cific west of the In­ter­na­tional Date Line are called ty­phoons.

The wa­ter in the west­ern Pa­cific is warmer, and warm wa­ter fu­els storms. There are also only a few pieces of land to get in the way and weaken them, said Univer­sity of Mi­ami hur­ri­cane re­searcher Brian McNoldy.

“If we are ever go­ing to have a Cat­e­gory 6 [a spec­u­lated-on level that’s above cur­rent mea­sure­ment tools], the west­ern Pa­cific is where it’s go­ing to be,” said me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue of weath­er­mod­els.com.

The Philip­pines tends to get hit nearly ev­ery year, the Caroli­nas far less fre­quently though with lots of close calls, Maue said. That shows another big dif­fer­ence in the storms. Mangkhut formed fur­ther south and stayed south — over warmer wa­ter. Florence was out of the trop­ics when it hit land.

Be­cause of that, Florence was weak­ened by the dry air and up­per level winds of the higher lat­i­tudes. Not so the more southerly Mangkhut, which Maue said, “es­sen­tially had a per­fect en­vi­ron­ment to in­ten­sify to a Cat­e­gory 5 and stay there.”

“Mangkhut and Florence are cer­tainly dif­fer­ent an­i­mals,” said Colorado State Univer­sity hur­ri­cane re­searcher Phil Klotzbach. Be­cause Florence is mov­ing so slowly, he said, it will dump more rain than Mangkhut, which is named for the Thai word for the man­gos­teen fruit.

Both storms have lasted a long time, es­pe­cially Florence which formed all the way over near Africa 15 days be­fore land­fall, McNoldy said. Both storms cover a large area, but Mangkut still dwarfs Florence. Mangkhut’s trop­i­cal storm force winds stretched more than 325 miles from the cen­ter, while Florence’s spread about 195 miles, Klotzbach said.

Eco­nom­ics also play a role in a storm’s im­pact. As a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, the Philip­pines is much poorer than the south­east­ern United States, which means houses tend to be less sturdy and first re­spon­ders less well equipped, among other fac­tors. This is one rea­son why, when dis­as­ter does strike, the ef­fects can be dev­as­tat­ing. In 2013, one of the most pow­er­ful storms on record, Typhoon Haiyan, killed 7,300 peo­ple and dis­placed more than 5 mil­lion when it swept across the is­lands of the cen­tral Philip­pines.

AP PHOTO/AARON FAVILA

A res­i­dent walks be­side a top­pled bas­ket­ball court Satur­day af­ter Typhoon Mangkhut bar­reled across Tugue­garao city, Ca­gayan prov­ince, north­east­ern Philip­pines. Philip­pine of­fi­cials were as­sess­ing dam­age and check­ing on pos­si­ble ca­su­al­ties as Typhoon Mangkhut on Satur­day pum­meled the northern bread­bas­ket with fe­ro­cious wind and rain that set off land­slides, dam­aged an air­port ter­mi­nal and ripped off tin roofs.

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