Day 1061 [Aug. 29/11 JST] – Typhoon Talas Update – Day 3

Today's Report
Aug. 29/11 JST 

Position:  27°03'N, 142°11'E (Ogasawara, Chichijima Island, Japan)
Remaining to Yokohama:  502 nm (ETA: ?)

Saito-san, now into his third day as he awaits the snail-slow approach of Talas, is so used to complaining about the wind that he started yesterday evening's call this way:

"It's no good."

"What?" we asked, suddenly all ears. "What?!"

"The wind. The wind. It's only 9 knots."


What he was feeling was something we had noticed on ClearPoint earlier -- a sharp contraction in the otherwise nearly spherical shape of Talas, showing the green and yellow of relatively lighter breezes where before had been the coppers and purples of storm-force winds. Meanwhile Talas, while excruciatingly slow-moving, had altered course slightly westward and put him closer to the eastern edge of the vortex. Thus he was feeling a slow-down in the wind. But just temporarily.

Center of Talas was 202 nm distant as of 0800 this morning, and edging westward. Green patch near upper right quadrant is reduced-wind area. Arrow points at Chichijima. 

In fact, the wind dropped off so much that he had to cut the call short when the boat and mooring buoy briefly touched – a consequence of the heavy lines and the lack of sufficient wind to keep the two apart.

This morning, he was still complaining a bit, this time about the rain that had turned heavy during the night. "There's no problem [about the mooring] -- but it's really raining right now," he said, adding that the wind had indeed picked back up again. At the time of the call it was back up to about 30 knots.

The Coast Guard acknowledged he had called them this morning, at our request, and had told them everything was fine with NBSDIII, now 3 days into a storm that's expected to last 5.

So the wait continues. In the last 2 days the center of Talas had moved only about 20 miles closer. It should pass Saito-san's position, and at about the same time peak for him, in another 37-48 hours when sustained winds are expected to hit 55 knots.


As we have watched the approach of Talas we couldn't help but wonder how it compared to Hurricane Irene, the lady who has been scaring the bejesus out of the residents of the East Coast.

When Irene finally hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Friday, the storm had dropped from a Category 3 to a 2, then by Saturday to a 1. This morning New Yorkers were relieved to find just a tropical depression, rather than the "monster" storm that was widely predicted, leading to what has been called the greatest evacuation in American history.

So we became curious about the differences between the two storms.

The rating scales used for Atlantic hurricanes and northwest Pacific typhoons are rather different. Still, it is possible to make certain comparisons of magnitude as seen on ClearPoint Weather.

As of Sunday 1600 JST:

Hurricane Irene

Typhoon Talas
1 on U.S. scale
1 on Japan scale
Max est. sustained wind
73 kts
65 kts
Size horizontally
543 nm
1051 nm
Size vertically
835 nm
765 nm
Total area (approx.)
450,000 sq. nm
800,000 sq. nm

If anything, they are roughly the same, with Talas covering a wider area. So you can't help but ask:

What is it about the two countries in which the way the Japanese prepare for a Category 1 or 2 typhoon is to bring in the laundry from the balcony and take an umbrella to work, while in the U.S. they order mandatory evacuations, deploy the police to patrol neighborhoods, and advise 65 million people to stock up on food for "three days but five would be even better." Oh, and don't forget to board up ALL your windows so your roof doesn't blow off.

The short answer, of course, is Katrina.

The longer answer, going back decades, is the massive Japanese investment in infrastructure; more compact urban areas; greater experience with typhoons and other natural calamities; a sophisticated public address warning system tested loudly and daily; less crime when disaster strikes; massive seawalls and a networked canal system with drop-down barriers to block the rise of seawater; and a cooperative populace well-schooled about what to do. The list of what Japan has done right goes on. Even the trees are made to cooperate through regular pruning and removal by municipal workers.

In other words, prevention rather than panicked response.

To get back to Saito-san as he awaits Typhoon Talas on a storm mooring in a harbor on the tiny island of Chichijima, he can be seen to symbolize a certain aspect of the Japanese attitude toward nature. Love it, respect it, but be ready for the worst.

In his case, it means putting on a couple of extra mooring lines and constant vigilance. And for us landlubbers to his north, it will mean carrying an umbrella to work in roughly 10 days.