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Super Typhoon Yutu slams the Northern Mariana Islands as a Category 5 storm on October 24, 2018. Image: CIRA/RAMMB

Super Typhoon Yutu, the strongest storm on Earth in 2018, slammed into the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean on Wednesday. The storm savagely battered the islands of Tinian, Saipan and Rota, with the eye completely engulfing Tinian at midday Wednesday. Super Typhoon Yutu is estimated to contain maximum sustained winds of at least 180 miles per hour, with higher gusts.

Why it matters: This storm is the strongest typhoon ever to strike the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and likely the strongest ever to strike the U.S. and its territories. “This is an historically significant event,” tweeted Michael Lowry, a FEMA hurricane specialist.

Based on satellite data that meteorologists use to estimate storm intensity, Super Typhoon Yutu is one of the strongest tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons) observed on Earth in the modern record, on par with Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. That storm devastated the city of Tacloban in the Philippines, killing thousands.

Super Typhoon Yutu is located in an area of extremely warm waters and light upper level winds, and is making a run at achieving its maximum potential intensity for that area.

Super Typhoon Yutu hits the northern Mariana Islands as one of the strongest-ever storms. Gif: Harry Stevens, Axios Visuals.

The details: Yutu is also affecting Guam, which hosts substantial U.S. military installations, such as Anderson Air Force Base.

  • Radar images from that base clearly showed the destructive storm as it moved toward Saipan, which has a population of about 50,000. Tinian and Rota, which with Saipan make up the Northern Mariana Islands, are smaller, with a combined population of about 7,000.
  • Super Typhoon Yutu underwent a period of extremely rapid intensification, going from a 50-mph tropical storm to a 180-mph Category 5 in just 48 hours.
  • More notably, it went from a Category 1 typhoon to a Category 5 in just 24 hours.
  • Emerging research shows that climate change may make rapid intensification a more frequent occurrence.

Areas that feel the brunt of the storm will see widespread destruction, on par, if not worse, than what was seen with Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. The combination of dangerous winds and storm surge flooding can obliterate homes, reducing them to their foundations.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • The National Weather Service typically warns that areas that experience Category 5 winds of greater than 155 miles per hour could be uninhabitable "for weeks or months."
  • The National Weather Service in Guam predicts that storm surge inundation in Saipan and Rota could reach up to 20 feet above normally dry ground on the eastern sides of the islands.
  • Once the center of the storm passes and winds shift to the southwest, a surge will occur on the western sides of these islands. Seas as high as 30 to 40 feet are forecast just offshore associated with the storm.

What's next: Super Typhoon Yutu was at its peak intensity when it hit the Northern Mariana Islands, but it's expected to remain a Category 4 or 5 storm for the next few days.

The bottom line: This storm is likely to cause widespread, extreme damage on the small islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Based on satellite measurements, it's at the upper echelon of tropical cyclones observed on the planet since the dawn of the satellite era in the 1960s.

Go deeper

57 mins ago - World

Army to award Purple Hearts to troops injured in Iran missile attack

Damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January 2020. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

The Army has approved 39 more Purple Hearts for U.S. soldiers wounded in an Iranian military ballistic missile attack on an Iraq base in January 2020, the Army Times first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Most of these soldiers sustained brain injuries, per the Army Times. Then-President Trump dismissed their injuries at the time as "headaches" and "not very serious," sparking backlash from some veterans groups.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.

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