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Why Storms Like Yolanda Are So Rare

November 14, 2013

By Paul Homewood


It is a geographic, and fortunate, fact that most typhoons either don’t make landfall at all, or only do after considerable weakening. The reason for this is that the Pacific Ocean is simply so large, and it is this very size that enables typhoons to become so strong in many cases. By contrast, in the Atlantic most hurricanes either hit land or quickly move into cooler waters.

[Note – Tropical cyclones are called “typhoons” in the Western Pacific, and “hurricanes” in the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic]

This pattern can be seen on the map below of 2012 typhoon tracks.



File:2012 Pacific typhoon season summary.png


According to the Japanese Met Agency, Yolanda atmospheric hit a low of 895 mb. Altogether, there have been 35 typhoons in the Western Pacific basin that have been as low or lower since reasonably reliable records began to be kept in the 1950’s. The lowest on record was Typhoon Tip in 1979, which registered 870 mb.

In other words, typhoons of Yolanda’s intensity come along on average every couple of years, but how many hit land?


Let’s start by looking at the tracks of the top 5. (The strongest, Category 5 winds are marked in red).


File:Tip 1979 track.png

Tip 1979

File:Nora 1973 track.png

Nora 1973

File:June 1975 track.png

June 1975

File:Ida 1958 track.png

Ida 1958

File:Kit 1966 track.png

Kit 1966


So we see that none of these five typhoons hit land at anything like maximum strength. Out of the 35 most intense typhoons mentioned above, the stats are:


  Number of typhoons
Made landfall at max strength 4
Made landfall at reduced strength 18
Did not make landfall 13


So although storms of 895 mb and lower occur every year or two on average, only four have hit land at maximum or near maximum strength, an average of once every 15 years. These are the four:


Name Year Country of Landfall
Joan 1959 Formosa
Vera 1959 Japan
Megi 2010 Philippines
Yolanda 2013 Philippines


We can only pray that such landfalls remain so rare.

One Comment
  1. Glen Bishop permalink
    November 14, 2013 4:46 pm

    A really clear and concise post – thanks Paul!

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