Stormy Singapore?

The other day, I took a short break in the Earth – Our Untamed Planet exhibition. I noticed a few things, but what really caught my attention was this image:

A Typhoon by any other name
What storms are called in different regions

This is part of an exhibit that describes how typhoons, tropical cyclones and hurricanes come about, and that they really are all the same thing, just named differently depending on where they occur. There are a lot of storm tracks on this map, but the very obvious clear zone with no tracks around the equator reminded me of how little we have to worry about natural disasters in Singapore.

But when I looked for Singapore on the map, I noticed that there was a storm track that seemed to go right over it (although the last ‘n’ of the ‘Indian ocean’ label almost blocked the view).

This threw up two questions: Was there really such a storm? And if there was, was it called a typhoon (since it started out in typhoon territory) or a tropical cyclone (since it ended up in the Indian ocean)?

Vamei’s path

That this track was not a fluke was easily confirmed with a quick internet search. The storm in question was called Vamei and raged from 26 to 28 December 2001. Interestingly, it didn’t form like other hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones that start spinning because of the Coriolis effect, which is a result of the Earth’s rotation. This effect is virtually non-existent near the equator, explaining that clear zone on the map. Vamei started spinning because of some winds that happened to blow past each other just in the right way to cause a vortex, which then stayed over the South China Sea long enough to grow into a storm. These conditions are estimated to occur only once every few hundred years.

Vamei made landfall along the southern east coast of Malaysia, just north of Singapore, with sustained winds of 140 km/h. It caused flooding and landslides, millions of dollars in damage and five deaths. Singapore got away with heavy rainfalls, a few fallen trees and some flight delays at Changi Airport.

My second question, regarding the classification of the storm, also seems to be answered. For much of its existence, Vamei was just a tropical storm. But for that short time that it became intense enough, most sources seem to refer to it as Typhoon Vamei.

Source: JTWC Annual Tropical Cyclone Reports

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kiat Teng says:

    Interesting to learn about this storm!

    Now, it makes me wonder what I was doing at that point in time, since I do not recall it at all. It was probably dismissed as another heavy rain season….

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