Record year for hurricanes, typhoons in Pacific Ocean

A boy making his way through a flooded road after heavy rain in Pampanga province, north of Manila, on Thursday. Nine people were killed and hundreds spent the night huddled on their roofs in the central Philippines as floods generated by a powerful
A boy making his way through a flooded road after heavy rain in Pampanga province, north of Manila, on Thursday. Nine people were killed and hundreds spent the night huddled on their roofs in the central Philippines as floods generated by a powerful typhoon inundated villages, disaster officials said on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

El Nino has allowed storms to spawn and grow from one end of the ocean to the other

BOSTON • It's been a record year for powerful hurricanes and typhoons in the Pacific Ocean, and they just keep coming.

Typhoon Melor, which peaked at Category 4 strength on the US Saffir-Simpson scale, weakened as it moved through the Philippines, but chances are it will have company before it finally fades away.

"There is another feature already developing south of Guam," said Mr Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. "In a few days, we will probably have another tropical storm or typhoon."

The Pacific, in the midst of a strong El Nino, has warmer-than-normal water across large parts of the basin. This has allowed hurricanes and typhoons to spawn and grow from one end of the ocean to the other. While the Eastern Pacific's hurricane season officially ended on Nov 30, storms can appear all year across the basin.

The Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, which meteorologists use to plot the intensity of a tropical season, has set a record in the Pacific this year, said Mr Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University's Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecast.

The index across the Pacific was 765 through Tuesday, breaking the old mark of 760 set in 1992, he said.

In addition, the North-western Pacific has had 16 major storms reaching Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which is also a record, Mr Klotzbach said. The previous mark was 15 in 1958 and 1965.

The Northern Hemisphere saw 26 Category 4 or 5 systems, the strongest on the scale, breaking the record of 18 set in 1997 and 2004, he said. Most other countries use 10-minute wind measurements, so their wind speed and strength estimates differ from the US'.

The Saffir-Simpson scale is based on a one-minute measurement. Regardless, it has been a "phenomenal year" for storms across the Pacific, Mr Kottlowski said.

Despite Melor's power, the largest threat for the Philippines was forecast to be heavy rain. Mr Kottlowski estimated as much as 30cm had drenched portions of the country. While Melor missed many of the Philippines' most heavily populated areas, Mr Kottlowski said the next storm should be watched because it might follow a different path.

Disaster officials said nine people were killed and hundreds spent the night on Wednesday huddled on their roofs as floods generated by Melor inundated villages in the central Philippines.

The capital, Manila, was paralysed by late Tuesday, with floodwaters chest-deep in some areas disrupting train services and causing traffic gridlock on major roads.

Disaster official Jonathan Baldo said about 90 per cent of Mindoro province was affected.

"Many people will spend Christmas in evacuation centres without power and potable water," he said. Thousands of lightly constructed houses had been reduced to "matchsticks", he added.

"It may take three to four months to restore power in the province after power lines and electricity posts were toppled by strong winds," he said.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Record year for hurricanes, typhoons in Pacific Ocean'. Print Edition | Subscribe