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Update: Haiyan made 2nd landfall just south of Tacloban City. The quadrant of strongest winds drove a surge into the funnel shaped harbor. Very heavy damage likely occurred. The first landfall near Guiuan, on the Philippine island of Samar, was likely the strongest landfall on record at 195mph 5 mph stronger than Hurricane Camille that smashed the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1969.

Haiyan landfall near Tacloban City

before/after
Tacloban City was hammered by a rapidly arriving storm surge.
This is the first image in the sequence
Supertyphoon Haiyan tops push into the stratosphere as it approaches the Philippines. This is one of the strongest storms ever recorded on earth with sustained winds of 195mph.
Update- Haiyan briefly made landfall and is crossing through an embayment towards Tacloban City. The track continues to be a very damaging one for the city of over 220,000. Very little strength was lost at the brief landfall.
Here's a link to an amazing too big to uploadCIMSS movie of the typhoon intensifying before landfall.

Hundreds of thousands of people living in the central Philippines are beginning to feel the effects of the winds of Supertyphoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in earth's history with sustained winds of 195mph (170kts) and gusts up to 235mph (205kt) according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Haiyan is forecast to track close to the port of Tacloban city, home to 220,000 people.

Supertyphoon Haiyan 170knots sustained gusting to 205kts approaching the central Philippines.

If these numbers I obtained from the CIMSS tropical cyclone sitefrom the JTWC are verified, Haiyan has broken the record for the deepest low pressure (at sea level) on the surface of the earth. The pressure of 858mb would smash the present record of 870mb set in 1970 by Typhoon Tip

31W

                  TYPHOON 31W    18:00UTC    07November2013
     UW-CIMSS Experimental Vertical Shear and TC Intensity Trend Estimates

         Current Conditions (from JTWC) :
                     Latitude                       :   10:04:55 N
                     Longitude                      :  127:31:52 E
                     Intensity (MSLP)               :  858.0 hPa

Haiyan will come dangerously close to Tacloban city. Category 4 winds, heavy rain and flooding are forecast to slam into this major town on the island of Leyte.
Haiyan a serious storm surge threat

Haiyan will cause much higher storm surge damage than is typical for a Philippines typhoon. A worst-case scenario now appears unlikely, as the current forecast track will keep the storm surge from building into the funnel-shaped Leyte Gulf, which comes to a point in Tacloban, population 221,000, the capital of the province of Leyte. Much of Tacloban is at elevations less than ten feet, and storm surge forecasts made earlier today by the Philippines' Project NOAH were calling for a storm tide (the combined height of the surge plus the tide) of 15' (4.5 meters) in Tacloban. With Haiyan now expected to push the waters out of Leyte Gulf upon approach, the storm tide will likely not get that high in Tacloban. The greatest storm tide will occur to the east of Tacloban on the east shore of Samar Island, where a massive 17' (5.3 meter) storm tide was predicted by Project NOAH. Many locations in the Central Philippines are expected to see storm tides in excess of 8' (2.5 meters), after Haiyan crosses Leyte and Samar Islands. To give you some idea of the size and power of Haiyan, a storm tide of 4.5' (1.4 meters) is predicted in the capital of Manila, even though the typhoon is expected to pass 180 miles to the south of the city. An experimental storm surge forecast from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre HyFlux2 model calls for a peak storm surge of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) from Haiyan. This model has not been verified for the Philippines, and I expect the storm surges from a 190 mph Category 5 typhoon will be more in line with what Project NOAH is predicting.

Also see NYFM's diary about Supertyphoon Haiyan.

Note about climate change:

This typhoon is exceptional, but it's far too early to suggest that climate change has caused it to be so intense. This year's northern hemisphere accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) is actually below average, to date. There's another weird factor, the cooling of the lowest part of the stratosphere (the TTL), that may be associated with climate change, which might be a factor in the intensity of this typhoon. The tropical oceans and the waters near the Philippines are very warm now, but warm SSTs are the norm in this region. The SST anomalies are not large enough to explain this storm's intensity, IMO. The TTL anomaly, lower stratospheric cooling, could be the explanation.

The cooling of the tropical tropopause layer has been proposed by MIT Prof. Kerry Emanuel to the cause of increasing Atlantic basin hurricane strength. The same reasoning might apply to this exceptional typhoon. Temperatures at 100mb, the pressure level of the TTL, were several degrees Celsius below normal in the atmosphere around the Philippines the first 5 days of November. Today's data are not yet available.

The outflow layer for supertyphoon Haiyan was cooler than normal, allowing a little extra intensification.
Cooler than normal temperatures at the outflow level of supertyphoon Haiyan may have contributed to its exceptional strength.
Virtually all metrics of Atlantic tropical cyclone activity show substantial increases over the past two decades. It is argued here that cooling near the tropical tropopause and the associated decrease in tropical cyclone outflow temperature contributed to the observed increase in tropical cyclone potential intensity over this period.
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