Super Typhoon Haiyan is thought of as one of the deadliest typhoons to ever hit the Philippines, with wind gusts of up to 196 mph (315 kph), but the most devastating typhoons are not necessarily the strongest.
Measuring the strength of a typhoon is not a simple task, as there is not enough data to rank them according to their physical extent and any instruments that could be used to measure them as they hit land, can get destroyed. In addition, the strongest typhoons or hurricanes (which are the same types of storms that occur in different parts of the world) are not always the most devastating.
An accurate way of measuring a storms intensity, is by measuring its pressure. Atmospheric scientist and University of Melbourne professor, Kevin Walsh says that the lower the pressure of the air that gets sucked into the cyclone is, the more powerful it becomes. He added:
There is a good correlation between the central pressure and winds close to the eye [of the storm].
Pressure is measured in hectopascals (hPa). While the standard air pressure, at ground level, is at a little over 1,000 hPa, the pressure inside the eye of a cyclone is much lower. For example, the air pressure at the eye of Katrina measured 902 hPa.
Moreover, the level of devastation caused by a typhoon can also be determined by where it hits land. A Category 3 cyclone that hits a major city, or a low-lying area will do a lot more damage than a Category 5 storm that hits a less populated area. It’s important to note that many of the most powerful cyclones ever formed, never hit land, or diminish in power by the time they reach the shore.
This list includes some of the worst typhoons in recorded history, according to how powerful they were, as opposed to the devastating effects they had.
1. Typhoon Tip, 1979, near Micronesia – Tip formed in the Western Pacific, had diameter of 1,367 miles (2,200 km) and a low-pressure center of 870 hPa, breaking all records. On October 12th, 1979, its winds reached speeds of 190 mph (305 kph). Luckily, by the time it reached Honshu island, in Japan, the winds had subsided to around 81 mph (130 kph). Despite this, typhoon Tip still caused severe damages, leading to the destruction of 22 thousand homes and killing 86 people.
2. Super Typhoon Nora, 1973, the Philippines – After beginning to develop east of the Philippines, Nora slowly started to swell to a wind speed of 185 mph (298 kph). The central pressure of the typhoon was of 877, braking the record of the time. Nora hit the Philippines, the island of Luzon, six days after its formation, on October 7th. When it reached China, October 10th, its power had subsided a lot; it still caused damages of $2 million and killed 18 people.
3. Super Typhoon June, 1975, Pacific Ocean – June never made landfall, but at the time, it was the strongest typhoon ever recorded, with winds of 184.5 mph (297 mph). Additionally, June was the first typhoon recorded to have three concentric circles of thunderstorm around the eye, also known as triple eye walls.
4. Super Typhoon Ida, 1958, Western Pacific Ocean – Formed in the central Western Pacific Ocean, Ida grew significantly within three days, reaching winds of 199 mph (321 kph) at its peak. By the time it reached the island of Honshu, Japan, the winds had dropped to 80 mph (129 kph). However, due to the torrential rain Ida brought with it, two villages in the south-east of Japan were completely destroyed and 888 people lost their lives.
5. Super Typhoon Kit, 1966, Pacific Ocean – Since the technology to measure the typhoon wind speeds was still being developed at the time, there are only unconfirmed reports in regards to Kit’s wind speeds. According to these reports, the typhoon’s winds reached 194 mph (313 kph); passing the Honshu island in Japan, it killed 64 people.
6. Super Typhoon Rita, 1978, Philippines - Formed on October 15th, it took Rita 8 days to reach the status of Category 5, its pressure was among the lowest ever recorded, 878 hPa and it maintain this intensity for three straight days. Rita dropped to a Category 4 by the time it hit the Philippines.
7. Super Typhoon Vanessa, 1984, Western Pacific – When it hit Guam (U.S. Territory in the Western Pacific), Vanessa had winds of 67.7 mph (109 kph) and caused damages of $1.7 million. However, it continued to increase, reaching a speed of 185 mph (298 kph).
Although these typhoons didn’t make landfall at their peak intensities, they were more powerful than many others that have hit land throughout history.
What do you think the damages would have been, had these cyclones hit land with all their force?