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Extreme Weather: How Typhoons Form and BECOME Devastator

November 24, 2013       How It Works

Storm surge.


noun: storm surge; plural noun: storm surges
  1. a rising of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm.
The worst part of Typhoon Yolanda, which may have taken as many as 10,000 people in the Philippines, was storm surge.  The highest sustained tropical cyclone winds in history were recorded at 195 miles per hour (314 km/h) in that typhoon.  Unlike the infamous Ondoy and Habagat typhoons which drew monsoon rains to amplify the rainfall in Metro Manila to Noah’s flood proportions, Yolanda forced the seawater to rise and flood the southern coastal communities and literally smash entire towns to detritus. 

Extreme winds forced the seawaters to rush inland like a bulldozer because the sea-level rise from the climate change has been ongoing four to five times faster in the eastern Philippines.  Surging waters devastated weak structures like they were just a box of twigs, and even smashing concrete houses that have not been reinforced with steel.  The floods caught people unawares and strong undercurrents dragged many under. 

The storm surge was greatest in Tacloban City, a coastal community where the Leyte Gulf narrows into the San Pedro and San Pablo Bay.  Like sitting ducks were everyone who chose to dig in and stay.  Carl Drews, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado described the area: “That is about the worst path and the worst place for a storm surge." 

Trade winds and currents have been piling up more water in the western Pacific, according to William Sweet, oceanographer from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  

To survive calamity, a country needs a culture of prevention, rather than disaster relief,” advised PRC Chairman Richard Gordon.

Seven Main Factors that Brew a Super Typhoon: 
  1. Warm Sea Surface Temperatures, 26.5 °C (79.7 °F) at least 50 metres in depth (160 ft)
  2. Atmospheric Instability
  3. High Humidity in the Lower to Middle Levels of the Troposphere, 
  4. Enough Coriolis Force to Develop a Low Pressure ‘eye of the storm’ 
  5. A Pre-existing Low Level Focus or Disturbance, 
  6. Low vertical wind shear. less than 10 m/s between the ocean surface and the tropopause.
  7. When more than one typhoon joins into another storm system, it becomes a super typhoon.

These conditions do not necessarily guarantee that a super typhoon will form. Warm waters create the warm core that fuels tropical systems.  A distance of 500 km (300 mi) from the equator is where tropical cyclogenesis brews.  About 85 to 90 percent of Pacific typhoons form within the monsoon trough.   Nearly one-third of the world\'s tropical cyclones start in the western Pacific.  

The most frequently impacted areas of the Philippines by tropical cyclones are northern and central Luzon and eastern Visayas.  Thirty percent of the annual rainfall in the northern Philippines could be traced to super typhoon, while the southern islands receive less than 10 percent of their annual rainfall from tropical cyclones. 


This is a survival guide that REACH will always reprint whenever storm season is underway.  Better safe than sorry.  Always.

Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Typhoon Survival Guidelines

Before the Storm

  • Before any typhoon hits land, regardless of strength, you must store food & drinking water good for at least 3 to 5 days—canned goods or survival foods like nuts and dry grains.  Typhoons can pull in monsoon rains to inflict even more damage via floods.  Cutting you off from everywhere if you cannot traverse the waters.

  • Flashlights save lives. Waterproof LED flashlights or lamps are the best choice for light source during storms.  If in rural or coastal aread secure all domesticated animals in high ground, safe from the onslaught.  Repair unstable homes—roofing, loose windows, and doors.  Alternative sources of heat and light should be safe and contained.  For alternate energy, portable camping gear equipment can double as cooking gear.  Check outside the house and secure loose stuff that could be caught in the extreme wind and become lethal projectiles.  Anything that may be ruined by a flood should be stored on high ground or dry storage.  Once the floods hit, you only have time to take care of yourself and your companions.

  • Turn off everything that runs on house power except for the refrigerator.  Set the refrigerator and freezer to the lowest settings to keep the contents cold longer if electrical power is interrupted.  A battery-powered radio will be handy for weather updates.

During the Storm
  • During typhoons, stay inside your homes unless told to evacuate by the authorities. Keep your housemates calm.  Listen to music between weather reports.  Play any games packed in your typhoon kit.  Chess, board games, or Commander  (an MTG card game) is a great way to sit through a storm.  If there is light enough to spare, read a book or browse through your old magazines to pass the time.

  • Strong winds can blow you into the surging waters and strong rains can make visibility impossible.   Flying objects and other floating debris can maim and damage homes. Stay inside even if the weather calms.  Wait for official word that it\'s safe to leave your home.  Sit far away from the windows in case they break.  Storm signal 4, typhoon winds can blow down both windows and doors.  

After the Typhoon 
  • Check on your neighbors to see if they need assistance. Check your house for damage.  Take photos of any damage to show to emergency services or your insurance company.  Ensure that the structures are safe before entering any other homes affected by the storm.  Make a call to your relatives and tell them they are safe.

  • Pool your resources with your neighbors.  Have a block party with whatever is in everyone\'s refrigerators if power is out and you need to eat food that will go bad soon.  

  • After the storm passes, floods can surge from all that rain.  Mudslides and landslides in certain areas can take lives and property.  Watch for downed power lines—electrocution can result from live wires. 

  • Be careful of contaminated water which can carry bacteria and parasites causing infectious diseases.   Emergency medicines should be stocked and hygiene precautions be taken.  Keep water reserves for minimal washing and cleaning.  Sewage can seep into the flood waters so keep out of flooded areas until a cleanup is complete.

  • Anything that cannot be washed and disinfected, such as mattresses, carpeting and upholstered furniture, should be safely thrown away.

  • Floods can also cause dangerous molds to grow in homes and can cause itchiness, sneezing, asthma attacks or serious lung damage.  Have easy-to-prepare food to sustain you after a storm and maintain clean and sanitary food prep and storage.  Survivors should throw out any food tainted by floodwater or any moldy substances.  


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