The transition from spring into summer spells an end to long bouts of drizzle, and invites fierce downpours, usually in the evenings. But these sporadic storms cannot compare to the South Pacific’s fiercest natural phenomenon, typhoons.
Typhoons occur in the summer, usually in July and August. “Typhoon” is another way of saying “hurricane”, which is another way of saying wind and rain, more wind and rain and even more wind and rain. Typhoons range from small to super; a “small” typhoon is a bad storm, a “super” typhoon is outright frightening. Having said that, as long as you follow some simple rules, there is nothing to worry about. Don’t go out in a typhoon, and be careful immediately after a typhoon (for fallen power cables). Store water, candles and batteries. Typhoons are usually huge, and easily cover the entirety of Taiwan. Likewise, a typhoon is rarely known to sneak up on an unwary population. There is ample warning of their approach, usually 2 to 3 days, so you will have plenty of time to prepare yourself and your belongings.
Fluctuations in weather depend greatly on geography. Similar to Japan, Taiwan has a “spine” of mountains that run generally north to south. The mountains are quite impressive at points, some high enough to retain snow given the right conditions. It goes without saying that such high elevations will consistently proffer cooler temperatures than the low-lying areas. As for the cities, humanity has played an unfortunate role in something that could be labeled, “The Mexico City Effect.” Ringed by mountains, Taipei is a perfect example of an urban area that sits at the feet of a natural wall. This mountainous wall protects the city from potentially disastrous typhoon winds and other air-borne threats, but just as effectively prohibits artificial toxins and industrial pollution from escaping. Consequently, as hot as Taiwan can get in the summer, pollution further aggravates the effect of the heat and air on both lungs and skin. Once again, showering frequently is a necessary antidote to particularly rank summer days.
Typhoons, for their part, are a godsend. These storms are an example of nature dipping into a stagnant bowl of mountains and blowing out the unseemly sediment. About once a month a major storm will pass through and really air-out the cities. Obviously such natural phenomenon simply relocates the pollution to some less fortunate city (usually across the strait), and this has actually resulted in Taiwan developing an Environmental Protection Agency. The problem of pollution and its effect on both landscape and meteorological conditions is finally being addressed. Thankfully, this distinguishes Taiwan, and specifically Taipei from any further comparisons to Mexico City.
Typhoon survival tips:
- Store household chemicals on a bottom shelf of a closed cabinet.
- Never store bleach and ammonia in the same cabinet. These chemicals when mixed, will create a toxic gas as deadly as any ever created.
- Remember that you might not have any choice as to where you will be located when a disaster strikes. The best places inside the house are under major beams that are secured to the rest of the structure, or in strong doorways, or inner structural walls.
- Find out where the utility shutoffs are for water, power, and gas.
- Home is where you can do the most to be prepared. But remember that you are only home for about 1/2 of the hours in a day. You must also be prepared at work.
Store the following items:
- First aid manual
- Extra prescription medications
- Aspirin or Ibuprofen
- Long life candles
Typhoons are a regular happening in this part of the Pacific, occurring generally in the summer months but can form as late as November.
So what is a typhoon? Should you be overly worried? What’s up with the new naming system? To answer these questions, we are proud to present the Taiwan Ho! guide to typhoons.
Intro – whoosh!
There are a couple of things about typhoons though; they are unpredictable buggers and in recent years they have tended to hit over the weekend, which is bad news for those on a salary looking for an easy day off.
Etymology – ty what?
The word itself, “typhoon” is fun. Try saying it out loud and you can positively feel the wind. Hopefully not the rain. The etymology interestingly comes from the Chinese for typhoon, “da feng” mixed in with a bit of Greek, “typhon”.
Cyclones and Beans
Typhoons are a kind of cyclone, as are anything where winds in a storm system go round a central point. The circular motion then, makes cyclones distinct from the day after your mate consumed two cans of baked beans and six pints of best bitter.
So hurricanes and tornadoes are also kinds of cyclone. Specifically though, hurricanes and typhoons are “tropical cyclones” the only difference between them being in their location. If you see or hear of a “severe tropical cyclone”, “severe cyclonic storm” or “tropical cyclone” they are all the same just in different parts of the world. (see here.)
Tropical cyclones north of the equator rotate anti-clockwise (right) while those south of the equator rotate clockwise (left). Why, you ask? Well it’s all to do with your Coriolis. This force deflects objects either left or right depending on whether they are above or below the equator, but only on a large scale. This does not effect water going down a drain as commonly thought for example, but does lead to railway track wearing out on one side faster than the other. But we digress!
As we will only be concerned with typhoons here in Taiwan, I will ignore the other kinds of tropical cyclones. If you are reading this in Darwin, apologies.
How Typhoons Get Their Names
Typhoons used to have friendly English names like Fred and Herb (‘Erb’), names being assigned by the U.S. Army and Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii. Since 2000 however, typhoons have been given names from a list of 130 drawn up by 14 nations. Notably Taiwan does not, or we can assume has not been allowed, to contribute to this list. A list of names, pronunciation and meaning can be found here.
What To Do in the Event
For those who remember the BBC’s Dad’s Army, then the advice of Clive Dunn’s character Lance Corporal Jones applies here, “Don’t panic, don’t panic!”
As long as you are sensible, typhoons don’t present much of a risk for the majority of us. If you are living in mountainous areas then care should be taken as one o the biggest risks is from flooding and landslides. If you know a typhoon is coming, avoid travel to such areas, coastal areas and rivers. Bring in items from rooftop areas that might blow off before the typhoon strikes, not during. Surfing the large swells can be appealing as well as going fishing. Both are highly dangerous. During each typhoon, at least one person is washed out to sea never to be found.
Flooding usually follows a typhoon, more so with typhoons later in the year (for example Nari in 2001). If you live on the ground floor in an at risk area (and this can be in the cities), you should be prepared for flood damage.
Typhoons really aren’t a laughing matter but as long as you stay alert, you’ll stay alive. You might even get a day off work.