It's called Super Typhoon Usagi — and it's picking up serious steam as it churns away in the western Pacific Ocean. Now the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane, it's poised to hit some of the most densely populated regions in the world, including Taiwan, the northern Philippines, and Hong Kong.
A "super typhoon" is the designation given to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds reaching at least 150 mph (240 km/hr). Usagi, which is now the most powerful storm of 2013, has been clocked at 184 mph (296 km/hr).
The storm underwent a period of rapid intensification from early Wednesday through midday Thursday (EST), transforming from a tropical storm into a super typhoon in just 33 hours. That's an intensification of 100 mph (160 km/hr).
It currently features a massive diameter of 620 miles (1,000 km), with outer rain bands extending across the main northern Philippine island of Luzon and southern Taiwan. The storm is packing 24-hour rainfall accumulation of 20 inches (500 millimeters) near its center.
As of this morning, Usagi was 350 miles (560 km) east-southeast of Taiwan and 224 miles (360 km) from the northern Philippines.
Taiwan has already evacuated hundreds of people from flood-prone areas near cities and in remote mountainous regions.
The typhoon is expected to hit China over the weekend.
The Weather Channel highlights the potential forecast impacts by location:
- Closest approach of center of Usagi: Saturday afternoon, local time.
- The most likely path for the center of Usagi is to pass near the southern tip of Taiwan at that time. This would put Taiwan in the most dangerous eastern semicircle of Usagi.
- Potential impacts: Surge flooding/battering waves (eastern coast especially), damaging winds (particularly southern Taiwan), flooding rain/mudslides (central, eastern Taiwan).
- The center of Usagi will likely pass north of the north coast of Luzon from late Friday into Saturday, local time.
- Potential impacts: Coastal flooding/high surf along the north coast of Luzon, bands of locally heavy rain (trigger flash flooding/mudslides), some wind damage possible.
- Closest approach of center of Usagi: Sunday evening/night, local time.
- Current forecast anticipates Usagi will weaken before reaching southern China, but still may be a Category 1, 2 or 3 equivalent system.
- Potential impacts: These will depend on exact track of Usagi's center Sunday. It is still too soon to forecast these impacts.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with over 7.1 million residents.