Strongest typhoon of 2014 headed towards Japan
Typhoon Vongfong follows Phanfone, which hit the country last week
Storm has sustained winds of 178 mph and gusts of up to 219 mph
If it carries on its current course, storm expected to lose intensity before making landfall
The most powerful storm of the year has Japan in its sights.
Hot on the heels of Typhoon Phanfone, which lashed Japan with rain and high winds last week, Vongfong, which has intensified in recent days to become the strongest tropical cyclone of 2014 so far, looks poised to buffet the country in the coming days.
Typhoon Vongfong is the strongest tropical cyclone since last year’s Typhoon Haiyan, which had winds of 315 km/h (195 mph) which devastated parts of the Philippines, leaving over 6,000 dead and more than 1,800 missing.
Currently over open water, the storm, which is classed as a Super Typhoon, is heading north towards the Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa, according to the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
The Center has recorded sustained winds of 155 knots (178 mph) and gusts up to 190 knots (219 mph), with wave height reaching 50 feet. It is expected to intensify to 305 km/h (190 mph) in the coming hours.
Sustained winds of over 150 mph classify a tropical storm as a super typhoon. Vongfong is the sixth Pacific storm to be so designated this so far in 2014, but is the strongest this year.
It is traveling west-northwest at a speed of 8 knots (9 mph), the Japan Meterological Agency said. The agency has classed the storm as “violent.” Before veering northwards, the storm passed by the Pacific island of Guam, depositing heavy rain and causing minor damage.
If it stays on course towards Japan, it is expected to lose intensity before making landfall on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. It could, says CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, still be a category three equivalent on the U.S. scale.
This year has seen a lower-than-average number of named storms and typhoons, but double the yearly average of Super Typhoons - six in total so far.
The previous severe weather alert, generated by Phanfone, caused more than 1.2 million people to be evacuated to shelters, disrupted air and rail travel as well as the search and rescue efforts for missing hikers on Mount Ontake. Two U.S. airmen and a Japanese surfer remained missing Monday.