(CN) — Typhoon Mawar is on its final approach to Guam, which braced for extreme winds, flash flooding, and potentially fatal storm surge.
The National Weather Service in Guam say that the island could be battered by winds up to 140 mph, equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. As of noon Wednesday local time, the center of the typhoon was around 50 miles southeast of Guam.
Heavy winds began Tuesday night with conditions deteriorating quickly going into Wednesday morning as the storm’s inner core moved closer to the island. Forecasters expect the storm to fully touch down by the afternoon. Central Guam is poised to feel the most direct impact as the eye of the storm passes overhead, although Southern Guam will likely feel the effect of typhoon force conditions concentrated at the at the south of the storm.
NWS meteorologists have likened the storm to 1976’s Typhoon Pamela and 2002’s Typhoon Pongsona, typhoons that destroyed over thousands of homes and left thousands without utilities. Mawar is Guam’s largest typhoon since Pongsona.
“We have triple threats,” Brandon Aydlett, the science and operations officer for the weather service, said in an update Wednesday morning. “Torrential rains that may result in landslides and flash flooding, catastrophic wind and life-threatening storm surge.”
According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, storm surge — the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, able to tear even large boats from their moors — accounts for the majority of hurricane or typhoon-related deaths and property damages. The agency warns that Mawar’s surge could reach up to 25 feet higher than normal high tide.
Governor Lou Len Guerrero ordered an evacuation of low-lying coastal regions Tuesday in anticipation of the unprecedented storm surge risk.
The NWS also expects that water and electricity services “may be unavailable for days and perhaps weeks after the storm passes.” The service also warn that “most trees will be snapped or uprooted. Fallen trees may cut off residential areas for days to weeks.”
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration authorizing FEMA disaster relief efforts to begin late Monday for the U.S. territory, as well as for the nearby Northern Mariana Islands, which are not expected to feel much more than some heavier-than-usual rainfall.
The storm has quickly gained strength since last week when meteorologists first notified Guam officials of a tropical depression with its sights set on the island.
Although meteorologists started the week anticipating a Category 5 “Super typhoon”, Mawar was downgraded from its “Super” status Wednesday morning, and is currently considered a Category 4 typhoon. The intensity of the storm is attributed to fluctuations in the typhoon’s eyewall as Mawar edged closer to Guam; continuing fluctuations in the eyewall prompted the downgrade and have left forecasters guessing on the exact path of the typhoon.
“The eye of the storm could pass over much of Guam; if that’s the case, you could see a little peek of blue sky but that is not the end of the storm,” Aydlett said. “We’re looking at an 18-mile eye, moving at 6 miles per hour, that would equate to about three hours within the eye. Keep in mind if you get into the eye. You could be in there for several hours, that is not the end of the storm.”
Officials emphasized sheltering in “full reinforced, concrete homes, with concrete roofs.” Public shelters have been made available. They also warned the community not to go outside for any reason until the authorities give an official all clear when the storm has full passed. NWS forecast the worst of the storm will be over by Thursday morning.
“We will wake up to a different scene Thursday morning, so stay put, listen to communications from local government and especially for the eventual all clear,” Aydlett advised in a briefing.
Typhoon Mawar falls right in the beginning of the Pacific Ocean hurricane season, when hurricanes and typhoons are more likely to form. The season typically lasts until November. Although the Pacific islands are no strangers to hurricanes and typhoons occurring nearby, the likelihood of one passing directly overhead is rare, given how small the targets are.
Some studies have warned that larger, more intense storms like Mawar could become more common as climate change has increasing effect on our oceans.
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