05 October 2013 - 4:30 am JST
Chasing FITOW: The anguish of island chasing.
The last 36 hours have been such a whirlwind, I hardly know where to begin—but given that it's late and I'm exhausted and a typhoon is coming, I'll be unusually brief. :)
I arrived on Okinawa Island last night, where I met up with James Reynolds and Mark Thomas. Over dinner in downtown Naha, we discussed strategy and concluded we basically had two options for chasing Typhoon FITOW: 1) stay on Okinawa Island or 2) fly to Miyako-jima, a tiny, isolated island about halfway between Okinawa and Taiwan. While there's a good chance the cyclone might slip through the channel separating them, we decided it was best to commit to one of those locations and hope for the best. As it was unclear which was the better option, we decided to put off the decision until breakfast.
Unfortunately, morning brought no clarity—we were still getting really mixed signals from the computer models and satellite loops—but we had to make a decision.
And it was Miyako-jima.
This was an agonized decision. We discussed it endlessly, and even as we committed to it, we knew it had serious bust potential: the cyclone could veer N, back toward Okinawa, or it could avoid land altogether. But we believed the cyclone was likely to miss Okinawa, and Adam—who advocated for the Miyako option—reminded me that the computer models were showing a very sharp left turn and it would be unwise to ignore it.
So, we packed our things and rushed to the airport, and before 12 noon we were on a 35-minute flight to Miyako.
After getting a rental car and checking into a big waterfront hotel, we spent the afternoon driving around the island doing pre-chase recon. Late in the day, we went down to the Eastern Cape, where we watched monstrous surf crashing with terrific force against the jagged, volcanic landscape. Although the typhoon was more than 24 hours away, we had smatterings of rain, and the winds were already very strong. Like so many Western Pacific cyclones, Typhoon FITOW is huge—and we were already inside its tremendous circulation.
And of course we obsessed all day about FITOW's track—constantly checking the satellite loops to find evidence of the W turn that would bring the cyclone to Miyako-jima, rather than passing it to the N. Late in the day, we started to see it, fnally—almost imperceptible at first, but more pronounced as the evening wore on. And the typhoon grew stronger, too, with a big, round eye developing.
Now it's 4 am, and the image here shows Typhoon FITOW in relation to us (symbol at 24.8N 125.3E). The cyclone's center is creeping in our general direction, but the exact path is impossible to predict. A big wobble to the W will bring the center right over us in about 24 hours—whereas a big wobble N could spare the island any major effects.
A lot is up in the air, and it's all coming down to little wobbles.
I've never been fond of island chasing, and this is why. Being confined to a small piece of land—with no option to hunt the cyclone down if it veers away—is tough. You just feel helplessness. But I can't complain—I knew I was getting into this game when I decided to chase typhoons in the Western Pacific.
For now, we're in "wobble watching" mode, as Jorge said. Time for me to get some shut-eye.