Typhoon Vongfong on Google Earth

Typhoon Vongfong

Growing up near the Columbia River Gorge, strong winds and rain are a part of my DNA. As kids, we’d play catch in those winds and pretend we were fielding fly balls at Wrigley Field in one of those 23-22 final score games.

Maybe that’s why the recent string of typhoons—starting with Phanfone last week and Vongfong rolling through today—don’t get my heart racing much. I certainly won’t be venturing out this afternoon when winds will range between 25-50 MPH, but the forecast shows the storm weakening to tropical storm strength by the time it reaches us in Saitama. It’ll be no worse than a December day back home.

Typhoon Vongfong from ISS

Typhoon Vongfong as photographed by ISS astronaut Reid Wiseman

The images have been spectacular considering the danger that lurks within. Photos from the International Space Station show Vongfong engulfing the entire planet. Vongfong reached Category 5 strength at one point last week and is the strongest typhoon of 2014… so far.

Sadly, not everyone went unaffected by Vongfong. The typhoons have taken a predictable path through the Pacific Ocean. Okinawa takes the brunt of these storms for Japan and Japan’s national network NHK is reporting several serious injuries and damage in the area. Flooding and potential landslides have resulted in more than 90,000 households in Okinawa being evacuated. If there’s a bright spot, it’s that Vongfong weakened to a Category 1 status by the time it made landfall.

ThinkProgress has a story today about future storms and how the damage and resulting financial impact will continue to grow if we don’t decrease the carbon emissions that cause global warming. The report estimates Japan being impacted the worst, facing $4.4 trillion in losses by 2090, nearly four times that of second-place China.

Ironically, today is Columbus Day on our calendar. In 1962, the “Columbus Day Storm” hit the Pacific Northwest as Typhoon Freda made its way across the Pacific Ocean. When everything was said and done, the strongest storm in a century killed 46 people and can still be recalled vividly by those who experienced it (my family included).

Campbell Hall

The tower of Campbell Hall on the Western Oregon University campus crumbles in the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 (Wes Luchau)

One of the most indelible images for me is the destruction on the campus of the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth. WOU is my alma mater and photos of the damage were part of our heritage. Campbell Hall‘s bell tower collapsed during the storm. Student Wes Luchau captured the moment with a photograph that would be used by local newspapers and later appeared in LIFE magazine.

For now, we’ll sit and wait. It’s been raining for a couple hours, but the worst of the storm will roll through overnight. Hopefully the wind and rain will bring nothing more than a few childhood memories.


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