Monday, 9 March 2015

Thank you Roger

All it takes is seven ingredients, warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity within the mid to lower levels of the troposphere, sufficient Coriolis force to form a low pressure center, a pre-existing low level disturbance and a low vertical wind shear. If we take these ingredients, mix them together and shake, the results will be a tropical depression. If we continue to shake and add extra doses of the stated ingredients, we will eventually create a tropical storm. Again, let's continue to add our ingredients until we form a severe tropical storm. But we're not there yet. Let's keep going until we've created a typhoon. No, in-fact we need to add more. Lots more. Lots, lots more. We shall keep adding ingredients and shaking until we have created the largest storm on earth. The most gigantic typhoon ever witnessed in human history. The most forceful, dangerous and panic inducing monster that we can. A storm so large that simply comprehending its size teeters on the edge of impossibility. Well, this is exactly what happened on Thursday 4th October 1979. The largest storm in the recorded history of earth materialised within the south-west Pacific ocean, and climbed in a north-westerly direction for twenty days until is dispersed without a trace on Wednesday 24th October.

This is the story of super typhoon Tip.      

Typhoon Tip is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and is conveniently also one of the most documented storms in history. On the 4th October 1979 at the beginnings of Typhoon Tip, the aforementioned ingredients were set in motion and began to mix gradually until they formed a tropical depression a few hundred miles east of the coast of Indonesia. As more ingredients were added, this tropical depression grew into a tropical storm, known as Tip. A tropic storm with such potential that it was already under the watchful eye of most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Luckily for these countries, however, another superbly named storm known as tropical storm Roger occupied similar territory to Tip, and temporarily raged strongly enough to hinder Tip's attempts to gain additional power and momentum. As one could imagine, this was welcomed news, as Tip was already coined to be beyond magnificent. The problem was, however, nobody knew just how magnificent Tip would become.

After 24 hours of Tip circulating under Roger's command; on the 5th October 1979 tropical storm Roger relinquished control of Tip and drifted away to the south-east. This left Tip alone within the south-western Pacific to climb slowly in a north-westerly direction and gain additional power. Undisturbed, Tip was able to gain speed and size as more and more ingredients were added to the storm. Just as before, international governments and meteorological bodies watched patiently; unable to control or influence the gradually ascending momentum of Tip. As soon a tropical storm Roger left Tip alone, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) issued a stark alert of a closed low-level circulation that was quickly generating significant momentum within the western Pacific ocean. Something big was coming, and they knew it.

As Tip continued to swing north-west, it once again encountered Roger. However, this time Tip was the superior of the two. Tropical storm Roger who a few days ago was able to control Tip, and dictate its speed, movement and development, now stood vulnerable to Tip's superiority. It is the classic tale of the student defeating the master. Tip simply sucked Roger into its mass, and absorbed every last ounce of Roger's power. Tip was now a gigantic tropical storm, relentlessly digesting its environment of energy. Now, alone in the ocean once again, Tip continued to circulate and build until the next day, on the 9th October 1979 it was officially, and no doubt reluctantly, upgraded to Typhoon status. But this was no ordinary typhoon; as due to a series of rapidly favourable and convenient conditions Tip thrived in its surroundings, already breaking the current record for the world's largest storm. But Tip wasn't finished yet. It didn't take long for Tip to climb into super typhoon status, which it achieved effortlessly, two days later, on the 11th October. At this point, the USA, Indonesia, Australia, USSR, Japan, China, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands watched nervously onward as the largest ever documented super typhoon climbed northward towards the coast of Japan. The 11th October passed and much to the disappointment - for lack of a better word - of the Japanese, Tip grew larger still. It wasn't until 12th October 1979 that Tip reached its maximum size.

At its peak, Tip boasted a diameter of 1,380 miles (2,220 km). If we place this into context to give it more of a visual representation; Tip occupied an area equal to half that of the continental United States, or an area twenty times greater than the United Kingdom. Basically, if we were to take super typhoon Tip, create 100 of them and place them side by side, we would cover the entire surface of earth. It is fortunate, however, that the majority of super typhoon Tip's life was lived out on the ocean. Away from civilisation, cities and residential areas. It is thanks to this that although Tip is the largest storm ever recorded on earth, it was by no means the most destructive.          

Overall, super typhoon Tip attained a maximum wind speed of 190 mph (305 km/h) and caused damage and death within Guam, Japan and the Soviet Union. In total it killed 99 people, formed 600 mudslides, flooded 22,000 homes, broke 70 river banks, destroyed 27 bridges, demolished 105 dikes, left 11,000 people homeless and disrupted 160 flights.

The outcome could easily have been much worse for most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Who knows, if it were not for tropical storm Roger and his multiple interventions, Tip may have taken an entirely different path all together, and killed millions upon millions of people in the process.

Thank you Roger.

The path taken by Typhoon Tip.

Typhoon Tip when compared to the USA.

- Until the next Butterfly