Yutu now a powerful Super Typhoon, closing in on U.S. territories

Himawari-8 satellite image of Super Typhoon Yutu located east of the Mariana Islands, Wednesday morning local time on October 24. (Photo: Japan Meteorological Agency)

A monster storm has been brewing in the western Pacific and is about to slam into some small U.S. territories.

Yutu went from a Typhoon to a Super Typhoon overnight with sustained winds of a staggering 167 mph around the eye wall, equal to the strength of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Gusts have been measured at 200 mph, and the storm is heading right toward the small islands of Saipan and Tinian, just north of Guam.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday local time on the islands (7 a.m. Wednesday Eastern time in the U.S.), Yutu was centered about 85 southeast of Saipan which has a population of around 52,000 people. Tinian has a population of around 4,000. The Saipan Tribune reported that the Saipan International Airport (IATA code: SPN) has recently recorded sustained winds of 67 mph, with gusts of 91 mph. But as the eyewall approaches in the next few hours, winds will greatly increase as Yutu maintains its strength. The National Weather Service in Guam and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center expect the worst of the storm to hit the islands soon after midnight tonight local time.

Seas will be rough, so shipping interests have hopefully been paying attention and have been avoiding the area.

Massive storm surge and heavy rain will lead to major flooding on Saipan and Tinian, and severe wind damage is likely to level homes and businesses. In preparation, the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has been asking all residents, including first responders, to remain off public roadways, secure emergency vehicles, and to shelter-in-place until the “all clear” has been issued by Governor Ralph Torres as Yutu poses a life-threatening hazard to the community.

Radio New Zealand reported that people on the islands, which are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), have been getting ready.

“Yesterday there were over a hundred cars lining up to fill up with gas in anticipation of the storm,” said correspondent Mark Rabago. “Also going around, people were stocking up on supplies, rice, gas canisters for their stoves, foodstuffs [both] canned and frozen and everybody’s withdrawing cash.”

Shutters had been put on homes and loose items had been secured. He said people now know what to expect after going through Typhoon Mangkhut in September and Super Typhoon Soudelor in 2015.

Guam, about 135 miles southwest of Saipan, could also see damage, but it won’t be nearly as bad. Nonetheless, the island is under Tropical Cyclone Condition (TCCOR) 1, meaning destructive winds are imminent. People on Guam have also been preparing, and Guam’s Pacific Daily News announced school closings yesterday

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.