Typhoon Yutu, which is right now barreling toward the Marianas and is expected to hit the region by late Wednesday or early Thursday, is currently on track to be the biggest typhoon Saipan has ever had since Super Typhoon Soudelor—a Category 5-equivalent storm.
According to the 8pm report from the National Weather Service in Guam last night, Yutu’s track has shifted a little south. A typhoon warning is now in effect for Rota and a tropical storm warning is now in effect for Guam. Previously, the typhoon warning was only for Saipan and Tinian. A tropical storm watch remain in effect for Alamagan, Pagan, and Agrihan.
In an interview with Nadine Deleon Guerrero, public information officer of the CNMI Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office, based on its current strength, Yutu is expected to be the biggest typhoon of the year and is comparable to the strength of Soudelor that devastated Saipan back in 2015.
Soudelor had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Deleon Guerrero said that Typhoon Yutu is expected to bring maximum sustained winds of about 120 mph.
“Typhoon Yutu is actually the biggest storm we’ve had since Soudelor…It’s going to be somewhere between Mangkhut for Rota and Soudelor for Saipan. …We are expecting a direct hit and we are expecting maximum sustained winds of 120 mph,” she said.
This comes as Rota is still recovering from the onslaught of Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit the CNMI in September.
Typhoon Yutu was last seen moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
As of 5pm yesterday Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has upgraded Saipan and Tinian to Typhoon Condition 2, which means that damaging or destructive winds are expected in the next 24 hours.
“This storm is definitely picking up faster than expected but we have been monitoring it throughout the night. …We wanted to make sure that we gave ample amount of time for our community to be safe from the typhoon,” Deleon Guerrero said.
Torres and Deleon Guerrero both urged the community to prepare as early as possible and not take Typhoon Yutu lightly.
“This is almost a near direct hit for the island of Saipan—not to alarm residents but to encourage people to start preparing…and we are encouraging all our residents not to take this lightly. I know we have had storms in previous months…but this is going to be the biggest,” said Deleon Guerrero.
Initially Typhoon Yutu was forecasted to pass about 20 miles north of Saipan but, as of 3pm yesterday, the system was seen dipping south and moving closer to the island of Saipan.
CNMI HSEM initially forecasted that Yutu would make landfall Thursday evening but as of 2pm yesterday, destructive winds were seen to make landfall as early as Wednesday evening up until Thursday morning. The CNMI HSEM expects the closest point of approach Thursday morning.
“Just because we are expecting the CPA to hit us Thursday morning doesn’t mean destructive winds are not going to be here. We can start expecting the wind to escalate as early as Wednesday afternoon,” she said.
HSEM expects the most damaging hour to be Wednesday evening at around 8pm to 11pm on its current track and speed and to receive the all-clear from the Office of the Governor by Saturday.
“More than likely, maybe not until Saturday. It just really depends on the movement, how slowly or how fast it comes across the Marianas,” she said.
Historically, after hitting Saipan, storm systems either move up to the Philippines or Japan, even Taiwan. “But right now we just don’t know. Maybe after a couple of days after it leaves the Marianas, we will be able to predict where it’s going to next,” she said.
Yesterday, hundreds of cars were seen lined up at gas stations, making it nearly impossible to fuel up without waiting for hours.
“We can see that people are fueling up already, which is a good sign…We want to thank our residents for being proactive and for being prepared before landfall,” said Deleon Guerrero
The Office of the Governor also shut down all government agencies, judiciary offices, and public schools as of 11:30am yesterday.
Deleon Guerrero said because Yutu is anticipated to make a near direct hit on Saipan, it’s almost safe to say that all offices and institutions will remain closed but HSEM is still awaiting word from the Office of the Governor.
Deleon Guerrero said that 7 to 9 inches of rain is expected and arrangements have been made to lessen flooding in flood-prone areas like Garapan.
“I know that during the last storm we had a lot of flooding. We are already in coordination with Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality and Department of Public Works to open up those manholes to allow for the water to make its way out,” she said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 9 that has been here following the onslaught of Typhoon Mangkhut has also been preparing resources to aid the CNMI if needed following the impact of Yutu.
Deleon Guerrero also said that FEMA has been coordinating with the CNMI administration to ensure that Saipan receives an expeditious approval of a disaster declaration if Yutu devastates the island.
As of yesterday, Department of Fire and Emergency Management Services Commissioner Clyde Norita said that emergency teams are prepared to be deployed to Tinian and will await the go-signal from the Office of the Governor.