Monday, 9 March 2015

Thank you Roger

All it takes is seven ingredients, warm sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity within the mid to lower levels of the troposphere, sufficient Coriolis force to form a low pressure center, a pre-existing low level disturbance and a low vertical wind shear. If we take these ingredients, mix them together and shake, the results will be a tropical depression. If we continue to shake and add extra doses of the stated ingredients, we will eventually create a tropical storm. Again, let's continue to add our ingredients until we form a severe tropical storm. But we're not there yet. Let's keep going until we've created a typhoon. No, in-fact we need to add more. Lots more. Lots, lots more. We shall keep adding ingredients and shaking until we have created the largest storm on earth. The most gigantic typhoon ever witnessed in human history. The most forceful, dangerous and panic inducing monster that we can. A storm so large that simply comprehending its size teeters on the edge of impossibility. Well, this is exactly what happened on Thursday 4th October 1979. The largest storm in the recorded history of earth materialised within the south-west Pacific ocean, and climbed in a north-westerly direction for twenty days until is dispersed without a trace on Wednesday 24th October.

This is the story of super typhoon Tip.      

Typhoon Tip is the largest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and is conveniently also one of the most documented storms in history. On the 4th October 1979 at the beginnings of Typhoon Tip, the aforementioned ingredients were set in motion and began to mix gradually until they formed a tropical depression a few hundred miles east of the coast of Indonesia. As more ingredients were added, this tropical depression grew into a tropical storm, known as Tip. A tropic storm with such potential that it was already under the watchful eye of most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Luckily for these countries, however, another superbly named storm known as tropical storm Roger occupied similar territory to Tip, and temporarily raged strongly enough to hinder Tip's attempts to gain additional power and momentum. As one could imagine, this was welcomed news, as Tip was already coined to be beyond magnificent. The problem was, however, nobody knew just how magnificent Tip would become.

After 24 hours of Tip circulating under Roger's command; on the 5th October 1979 tropical storm Roger relinquished control of Tip and drifted away to the south-east. This left Tip alone within the south-western Pacific to climb slowly in a north-westerly direction and gain additional power. Undisturbed, Tip was able to gain speed and size as more and more ingredients were added to the storm. Just as before, international governments and meteorological bodies watched patiently; unable to control or influence the gradually ascending momentum of Tip. As soon a tropical storm Roger left Tip alone, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) issued a stark alert of a closed low-level circulation that was quickly generating significant momentum within the western Pacific ocean. Something big was coming, and they knew it.

As Tip continued to swing north-west, it once again encountered Roger. However, this time Tip was the superior of the two. Tropical storm Roger who a few days ago was able to control Tip, and dictate its speed, movement and development, now stood vulnerable to Tip's superiority. It is the classic tale of the student defeating the master. Tip simply sucked Roger into its mass, and absorbed every last ounce of Roger's power. Tip was now a gigantic tropical storm, relentlessly digesting its environment of energy. Now, alone in the ocean once again, Tip continued to circulate and build until the next day, on the 9th October 1979 it was officially, and no doubt reluctantly, upgraded to Typhoon status. But this was no ordinary typhoon; as due to a series of rapidly favourable and convenient conditions Tip thrived in its surroundings, already breaking the current record for the world's largest storm. But Tip wasn't finished yet. It didn't take long for Tip to climb into super typhoon status, which it achieved effortlessly, two days later, on the 11th October. At this point, the USA, Indonesia, Australia, USSR, Japan, China, New Zealand and South Pacific Islands watched nervously onward as the largest ever documented super typhoon climbed northward towards the coast of Japan. The 11th October passed and much to the disappointment - for lack of a better word - of the Japanese, Tip grew larger still. It wasn't until 12th October 1979 that Tip reached its maximum size.

At its peak, Tip boasted a diameter of 1,380 miles (2,220 km). If we place this into context to give it more of a visual representation; Tip occupied an area equal to half that of the continental United States, or an area twenty times greater than the United Kingdom. Basically, if we were to take super typhoon Tip, create 100 of them and place them side by side, we would cover the entire surface of earth. It is fortunate, however, that the majority of super typhoon Tip's life was lived out on the ocean. Away from civilisation, cities and residential areas. It is thanks to this that although Tip is the largest storm ever recorded on earth, it was by no means the most destructive.          

Overall, super typhoon Tip attained a maximum wind speed of 190 mph (305 km/h) and caused damage and death within Guam, Japan and the Soviet Union. In total it killed 99 people, formed 600 mudslides, flooded 22,000 homes, broke 70 river banks, destroyed 27 bridges, demolished 105 dikes, left 11,000 people homeless and disrupted 160 flights.

The outcome could easily have been much worse for most of eastern Asia and Australasia. Who knows, if it were not for tropical storm Roger and his multiple interventions, Tip may have taken an entirely different path all together, and killed millions upon millions of people in the process.

Thank you Roger.

The path taken by Typhoon Tip.

Typhoon Tip when compared to the USA.

- Until the next Butterfly

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Far Far Away

On the 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin left earth on the spacecraft Vostok 3KA-3, to become the first ever human in space. Once he left orbit and looked back on the planet we call home, he was gazing upon the fifth largest planet in our solar system. Earth has a rough equator length of 24,902 miles (40,750 km); weights in at 5.9 sextillion tons; is covered by 29% land and 71% water - making the name 'earth' appear somewhat ironic. Yuri ventured further from the lands and seas of earth than any human had in history - an astronomical achievement (no pun intended). However, given the fact that most of us are either incapable or do not have access to space travel, the question arises: how far could we venture from land or sea without ever leaving the planet?

Let's start with land.

The point on earth furthest from any sea or ocean - basically the furthest inland - is officially known as the 'continental pole of inaccessibility'. If you wished to move further from the sea or ocean than this point, you would have to follow in Yuri Gugarin's footsteps and leave for outer space. This point lies within north-west China close to the Kazakhstan border, 200 miles (320 km) north of the city Urumqi in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert; and is approximately 1,644 miles (2,645 km) from the nearest coastline. It's a pretty dire place to live if you enjoy spending your days off at the beach. The city of Urumqi - literally translating as 'beautiful pasture' - is a wet patch in the midst of the desert. Surrounding the city lies dry, barren land that is quick to distinguish life, yet Urumqi itself is fed by a series of rivers and rain clouds that provide much needed water to the city's 3 million residents. However, given the unique location of the city - the most inland city on earth -, it is sad to note that Urumqi is one of the ten most air polluted cities on the planet, which is possibly due to China's current industrialisation process. The city is so air polluted that a thick hazy smog regularly covers the city during winter, which can be so dense and polluting, that it frequently affects the city's air traffic.

In order to make the distance to the coastline more real, more comprehensible. Let's imagine that we wanted to walk from the continental pole of inaccessibility to the shore. Given the average walking speed is 3.1 mph, if you walked for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take 44 days of walking to reach the coastline. An epic undertaking if all you wanted to do was go fishing.

Now to the ocean.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility - nicknamed 'Nemo Point', with reference to Jules Verne's Captain Nemo from the novel 20,000 leagues under the sea - unsurprisingly lies within the south Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on earth. This remote, distant, inhospitable point lies 1,670 miles (2,688 km) from the nearest land of Ducie island. This island is literally a speck in the middle of a very large ocean. Ducie island has a total area of 1.5 sq miles, which includes an interior lagoon, some sparse vegetation and a selection of birds. The lagoon which sits in the middle of the tiny island like a private swimming pool is home to a variety of fish, including the Galapagos shark. This shark grows to 3 meters, hangs around in groups and tends to have a bad attitude. Sort of like a teenager. However, given the pristine waters, the thriving life and the enchanting mysticism that encompasses the island, very few people take the time and effort to visit. This, I imagine, is most probably due to its extreme remoteness, because as we know, it is one of the most remote places on earth.

Once again, to place this humongous distance into context. The oceanic pole of inaccessibility lies roughly 60% of the way between New Zealand and South America. And if you were to swim from Nemo Point to Ducie Island, it would be the equivalent of swimming 53,760 lengths of an Olympic size swimming pool.

The continental pole of inaccessibility lies 1,644 miles from the nearest coastline. 

The Chinese city of Urumqi has such levels of air pollution that a smog frequently covers the city.

The oceanic pole of inaccessibility, AKA. Nemo Point. 

A lonely looking Ducie Island.

- Until the next Butterfly