In a previous article on Daydreaming in Paradise, we talked about one of the most ubiquitous parts of living in the Philippines—typhoons. To recap, these are storms with sustained wind speeds faster than 119 km/h, which are caused by warm air rising and cool air falling over the Pacific. The Philippines is battered by typhoons at an average of 20 times a year, sometimes more, and according to the Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), at least five of those are destructive.
Despite the frequency of typhoons passing through the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR), the effects they have on infrastructure, agriculture, and loss of life can often be impossible to get used to. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the worst typhoons to ever hit the country.
When: October 8, 1881
Where: Northern Luzon
Impact: 20,000 fatalities
The most devastating typhoon to ever hit Philippine shores happened even before the country gained its independence from Spain. Typhoon Haiphong developed over the Pacific Ocean in late September 1881, and though its exact category and strength are unknown, the impact it had on the Philippines and Vietnam was devastating. Around 20,000 people died in the Philippines alone. Haiphong went on to hit the port town of Haiphong in Vietnam, where it decimated the town almost completely. Eventually, this typhoon ended up claiming 300,000 lives, making it the world’s third deadliest tropical cyclone ever.
Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)
When: November 8, 2013
Where: Visayas region
Impact: 6,300 fatalities, 1,061 missing; USD $4.55 billion damage
No discussion of Philippine typhoons can go without mentioning the deadliest typhoon in modern history. Super Typhoon Yolanda had 10-minute sustained wind speeds of 230 km/h, and 1-minute sustained wind speeds of up to 315 km/h, causing widespread destruction and storm surges. The provinces of Samar and Leyte reported the largest number of fatalities, with 5,877 alone taking place in Eastern Visayas. Unfortunately, the repercussions of Yolanda remain apparent, with many of the affected communities still living in relocation sites five years later.
Tropical Storm Thelma (Uring)
When: November 4, 1991
Where: Visayas region
Impact: 5,000-8,000 fatalities, 3,000 missing; USD $27.6 million damage
Although not technically a typhoon, Tropical Storm Uring ranks third in the deadliest storms to ever hit the Philippines. Although its winds were far from the strongest on record, it did cause torrential rainfall in many areas of the Visayas. Much of the region received around 150 mm or 6 inches of rainfall, but Leyte in particular had as heavy as 580.5 mm (22.85 inches). This rainfall overwhelmed the Anilao-Malbasag watershed and rivers, causing widespread and devastating flooding.
Typhoon Bopha (Pablo)
When: December 3, 2012
Impact: 1,901 fatalities; USD $1.04 billion damage
Typhoon Pablo stands out for being the strongest recorded tropical cyclone to ever hit the island of Mindanao, which is often known for its lack of extreme weather events. It made landfall as a super typhoon with wind speeds of up to 280 km/h. Pablo caused disruption of electricity in two provinces and triggered landslides all over the island, forcing over 170,000 people to evacuate, before traveling through Palawan and eventually dissipating on December 9.
Impact: 1,800 fatalities
The next typhoon on our list also has the particular distinction of being the oldest, deadliest typhoon to hit the Philippines in recorded history. Though not much is known about Angela Typhoon besides the number of fatalities caused by its arrival, its impact was large enough on Philippine history to keep the dubious honor of being the fifth deadliest typhoon to ever hit our shores.
Tropical Depression Winnie
When: November 27, 2004
Where: Luzon, Visayas
Impact: 1,593 fatalities, USD $14.6 million damage
While also not technically a typhoon, Tropical Depression Winnie had the disastrous power of one due to its rainfall intensity. The heavy rainfall caused by this tropical depression triggered massive floods and landslides around the Quezon and Aurora provinces, resulting in huge losses of life and ranking it one of the deadliest storms to ever hit the country. It eventually turned to a north-northwesterly track and was last located along the northwestern Luzon coast on November 30th before dissipating.
Unnamed 1897 typhoon
When: October 7, 1897
Where: Samar, Leyte
Impact: 1,500 killed
Although Typhoon Yolanda may be the freshest in recent memory, the provinces of Samar and Leyte are no strangers to deadly weather events. An unnamed typhoon that made landfall in October 1897 tore through the island of Leyte a little over two hundred years before Yolanda. Though it wasn’t given a meteorological name, it caused enough extensive damage to claim the lives of approximately 1,500 people. It was recorded by the Observatorio de Manila, quoted here by Rappler, as causing incredible storm surges and total destruction of many towns in Samar and Leyte.
Typhoon Ike (Nitang)
When: Aug 31 1984
Impact: 1,474 fatalities; USD $230 million damage
Typhoon Nitang came out of a disturbed weather area near Guam before intensifying into a typhoon on August 30. It had 10-minute sustained winds of 165 km/h and 1-minute sustained winds of 230 km/h, making it one of the strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines after the 1970 Pacific typhoon season. Nitang made landfall only four days after Tropical Storm June hade hit the northern part of the Philippines, and also arrived during one of the worst economic periods in the country’s history. It was the worst typhoon to hit Surigao del Norte in 20 years.
Typhoon Fengshen (Frank)
When: June 21, 2008
Impact: 1,371 dead, 87 missing; USD $480 million damage
Typhoon Frank is perhaps best known for its role in the tragedy of the passenger ship MV Princess of the Stars, which capsized near Sibuyan Island during the peak of the storm. Rescue attempts by the Philippine Coast Guard were impossible due to the size of the waves, and around 870 people perished. The country was poorly prepared for the impact of Frank due to errors in forecasting, which predicted that Frank would track to the northwest away from the Philippines, when it instead tracked west and hit full-force over Luzon.
Typhoon Durian (Reming)
When: November 25, 2006
Where: Albay province
Impact: Unknown final count due to areas buried with lahar; >1,500 fatalities; At least USD $130 million damage
Typhoon Reming at peak intensity had 10-minute sustained winds of 195 km/h and 1-minute sustained wind speeds of 250 km/h. Its impacts were only exacerbated by the activities of Mayon Volcano, which at the time had minor eruptions. Despite earlier preparations by the government, the heavy rainfall caused by Reming (reaching over 457 mm or 18 inches in Albay) clashed with the flows from Mayon, causing mudflows and lahar across the province. The torrential rain also caused dykes to break, inundating many parts of the region, and strong winds uprooted trees and houses.
The history of the Philippines is peppered with storms, and their impacts feel even bigger on a small nation of smaller islands. However, while any one of these typhoons could cripple a nation, we’ve always picked ourselves back up again. Like the bamboo growing across our archipelago, we bend in the face of strong winds, but never break.
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James Gonzales is a Filipino-American travel enthusiast and writer currently based in the Philippines. After living and working in New York for 10 years, James decided he wanted to see more of the world and leave the city behind. In the course of saving up for what would become an epic trip across Asia, he wrote about previous traveling experiences for various travel websites and publications based in the Lower East Side.
James focused on journeying through the Philippines in the hopes of understanding his roots, and began Daydreaming in Paradise to share his thoughts and experiences. He’s always looking for like-minded travelers to trade stories and swap tips with, and he hopes you’ll join him on his journey.