By Eric Leister – AccuWeather
While Japan is recovering from former Typhoon Phanfone, another powerful typhoon looms in the distance.
Typhoon Vongfong, meaning “the wasp” in Cantonese, is currently churning in the western Pacific, just east of Taiwan, with an expected path heading through the Ryukyu Islands and mainland Japan.
This dangerous typhoon has already recorded a brutal history. Vongfong brought flooding rainfall and damaging wind to the northern Mariana Islands on Sunday, local time. Wind gusts over 89 kph (55 mph) and rainfall over 75 millimeters (3 inches) were common.
Vongfong was classified as a super typhoon during the middle of the week as it moved through an area of low wind shear and very warm ocean temperatures but has since lost that title. The tropical system had reached the equivalent strength of a Category 5 hurricane, featuring wind speeds greater than 257 kph (160 mph).
“Vongfong became the strongest tropical cyclone we’ve had all year anywhere on Earth,” AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews said.
The strength of Vongfong earlier surpassed that of Super Typhoon Genevieve which, at its most powerful, had sustained winds of 257 kph (160 mph) in the West Pacific.
Some weakening has brought the strength of Vongfong down to the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 212 kph (132 mph). However, Vongfong still threatens dangerous and life-threatening conditions.
Since taking a more northerly path, Vongfong has slowed down. While some uncertainty still remains in the exact path of the powerful typhoon, confidence is becoming increasingly high that the powerful cyclone will track very close or over Okinawa Saturday night, local time, before making landfall in mainland Japan by early next week.
The potent typhoon will bring life-threatening conditions to many over the course of the next few days.
“Destructive winds and flooding rain will be the top threats,” Andrews said.
The first target will be the northern Ryukyu Islands which already began to feel the effects of Vongfong Friday night. “As Vongfong approaches Okinawa and Kadena Air Force Base during the day Saturday, it will lash the island with increasing winds and torrential rainfall,” said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Ed Vallee.
Okinawa will be directly in the path of Vongfong bringing some of the worst conditions of the cyclone to several U.S. Pacific Air Bases. Widespread power outages will occur while flash flooding is also a major concern. Wind gusts over 160 kph (100 mph) are expected across the island.
After battering the Ryukyu Islands, the focus will then shift to mainland Japan. The worst impacts across mainland Japan are expected from late Sunday through Tuesday as typhoon-force winds and inundating rainfall spread from southwest to northeast across the nation.
“How far west Vongfong is able to run will also determine if there is a direct landfall in the island of Kyushu and thus the exact impact in cities such as Kagoshima,” Andrews said.
Weakening of Vongfong is expected as the typhoon approaches mainland Japan; however, the storm will still bring life-threatening conditions to most of Japan with the greatest impacts expected in Kyushu, Shikoku and southern Honshu.
This animated GIF shows Vongfong tracking across the western Pacific Ocean. (NOAA/Satellite)
Many areas at risk from Vongfong are still recovering from more than 150 millimeters (6 inches) of rain and strong winds that hammered eastern Japan from Sunday into Monday as Typhoon Phanfone moved through the region.
Tokyo was deluged by 272 millimeters (10.71 inches) of rain ahead of and during the height of Phanfone.
“Phanfone was a huge rainstorm for Tokyo, one of the biggest I can remember,” Andrews added, noting moisture from the storm interacted with a stalled front, prolonging the duration of rain.
There could be another round of flooding rainfall in Tokyo, almost exactly one week after Phanfone’s impact.
“The threats are the same as they were with Phanfone,” Andrews said. “There are some likenesses but also some differences in Phanfone’s track. The results can vary markedly with small differences in track and storm speed.”
All interests in Japan should continue to monitor this powerful typhoon.
AccuWeather.com Meteorologists Meghan Mussoline, Courtney Spamer and Jordan Root contributed content to this story.