UPDATE at 6:30 p.m. ET: Footage from the Northern Mariana Islands shows roofs ripped off houses, flooding and what looks like a shipping container flung on top of a row of cars. NASA estimates that Super Typhoon Yutu struck the U.S. territory with wind gusts up to 219 miles per hour. Waves of 25 to 40 feet were also expected.
Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands is taking a direct hit by Super #Typhoon #Yutu. JTWC estimates the max sustained winds are now at 155 KTS (178 MPH) with gusts to a staggering 190 KTS (219 MPH)! (JMA Himawari imagery) pic.twitter.com/qf6SpLx9S9
— NASA SPoRT (@NASA_SPoRT) October 24, 2018
Yutu is the latest in a series of tropical cyclones that have intensified incredibly quickly, strengthening from a category 1 to category 5 storm in under a day. Some forecasts have the storm maintaining that strength for at least another day.
Earlier reporting: Super Typhoon Yutu is bowling over the Northern Mariana Islands Wednesday, including the main islands of Saipan and Tinian, with sustained winds up to 180 mph. The category 5 storm is eliciting an unusual but appropriate number of exclamation points from official National Weather Service forecasts. The most recent advisory released by the NWS office in Guam just after midnight Thursday local time reads:
“Catastrophic winds for Tinian and Saipan are imminent! … Super Typhoon Yutu is a very dangerous Category 5 storm! ”
The roar of the approaching winds and frequent lightning strikes can be heard and seen on a live cam from Saipan.
The tropical storm is forecast to bring damaging winds, flooding and rough seas to the U.S. territory with up to 10 inches of rain expected to be dumped as well.
“This will be one of the most intense hurricane strikes on record for the United States and its territories,” meteorologist Bob Henson said on Twitter.
The eyewall of #Yutu, now a Category 5 monster, will be slamming #Tinian and #Saipan over the next several hours. This will be one of the most intense hurricane strikes on record for the United States and its territories. https://t.co/JUJVcD6oGO
— Bob Henson (@bhensonweather) October 24, 2018
As Yutu approached in the early hours Thursday at Saipan’s airport, a weather station there was already recording winds of 103.6 miles per hour.
According to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist specializing in tropical storms at Colorado State University, Yutu’s peak winds tie it with Typhoon Mangkhut for the strongest storm of the 2018 season in the northern hemisphere, a season which is currently the second most intense on record, behind only 2015.
Tinian and Saipan have a combined population of a little over 50,ooo American citizens and an economy that is largely centered on tourism.