[Colorized infrared satellite image of Usagi from early Friday; courtesy NOAA]
The strongest tropical system of the year, Super Typhoon Usagi, is currently barreling through the western Pacific Ocean headed for the Luzon Strait which lies between Taiwan and the Philippines. Usagi intensified rapidly between early Wednesday and midday Thursday reaching “super typhoon” status which is equivalent to a strong category 4 or 5 hurricane in the Atlantic Basin with sustained winds of at least 150 mph. Using satellite wind analysis, the central pressure is estimated to have bottomed out near an impressive 882 millibars (26.05 inches) before some weakening in the last several hours. Usagi is expected to weaken slightly over the next 24 hours as it passes south of Taiwan due to some interaction with its mountainous terrain, but it will remain a serious threat to southern China and the densely populated island of Hong Kong, which is often battered by typhoons - perhaps reaching that location by early Sunday. The lack of “hurricane hunters” in the region prevents more exact measurements as to the strength of the storm.