Based in London, Simon joined RMS in 2012 and works within the Model Product Management team, focusing on the Asia tropical cyclone suite of products. He is product manager for the RMS typhoon models for China, Taiwan, South Korea, Guam, and has most recently been involved in supporting the development and release of the Philippines Typhoon and Inland Flood Model.
Simon holds a bachelor's degree in Geography from the University of Nottingham and a master's degree in Geological and Environmental Hazards from the University of Portsmouth.
In March this year, I joined a team of six RMS employees and three clients travelling to Manila in the Philippines on the annual RMS Impact Trek, as part of an ongoing partnership with Build Change. RMS and Build Change share the aim of increasing resiliency and reducing the impact of disasters, especially in the communities that are most vulnerable to their effects. The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world; its position on both the Pacific Ring of Fire and within the western North Pacific tropical cyclone basin means the country is at risk from both earthquakes and typhoons.
Previous Impact Treks had taken participants to Haiti and Nepal – countries which were at the time recovering from the impacts of catastrophic earthquakes. This year was different, in that Manila has not experienced a recent disaster, and the Trek focused on pre-disaster measures that can be taken to increase resiliency and prepare for the next big event when it inevitably occurs.
In September, Typhoon Mangkhut wrought a path of destruction across the western North Pacific, causing damage from Guam, to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and southern China. For Hong Kong, Mangkhut was the second strong typhoon to impact the region in consecutive years, following Typhoon Hato in 2017. Damage was extensive – according to local media, at least 500 homes and high-rise buildings in Hong Kong, including apartment complexes and office blocks, were severely damaged.
In the weeks following Mangkhut, RMS worked with the Insurance Authority (IA) – the independent insurance regulator for Hong Kong, to help provide (re)insurers in the region with some context and scientific analysis around this event. According to data from the insurers gathered by the IA, Typhoon Mangkhut caused total insured losses of HKD 3.5 billion (US$448 million) in Hong Kong. This figure, collected as at October 12, three weeks after Mangkhut’s landfall, represents losses reported by insurance and reinsurance companies in Hong Kong. With the loss information provided by the IA and using the RMS China and Hong Kong Typhoon Model, RMS estimated Mangkhut to have a return period of 30 to 40 years in Hong Kong.1
Images of total devastation from Typhoon Haiyan shocked the global community in 2013, and Haiyan still haunts the Philippines five years on. At 4.40 a.m. local time on Friday, November 8, 2013, the city of Guiuan (pop. ~52,000) on the island of Leyte, in the Eastern Visayas, Philippines, first experienced the full force of Typhoon Haiyan (Super Typhoon Yolanda) as it made landfall. The city’s mayor declared “100 percent damage.” A community found itself homeless as 10,008 structures in Guiuan were destroyed and 1,601 were partially damaged. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) estimated Haiyan’s one-minute sustained winds at 315 kilometers per hour (195 miles per hour) at landfall, and at the time, this unofficially made Haiyan the strongest tropical cyclone ever observed based on wind speed.
Haiyan was a story of prolific intensification, starting life as an area of low pressure some 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) east-southeast from landfall just six days previously. Warmed by the Pacific, Haiyan was a tropical depression on November 3, tropical storm on November 4, and claimed typhoon status by November 5. Four days into monitoring, by November 6, the JTWC assessed Haiyan as the equivalent of a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS). It continued to intensify before landfall.
Super Typhoon Mangkhut (26W) — the twenty-fourth named storm in the western North Pacific this year, was tracking over open ocean around 321 miles (516 kilometers) east-northeast of Manila, Philippines at 0000 UTC Friday, September 14. Mangkhut, named as Ompong in the Philippines using the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) naming system, is the first storm of typhoon strength to impact the Philippines since Typhoon Nock-ten on December 25, 2016, after 2017 proved relatively quiet, typhoon-free year for the country.
With the Philippines currently in the monsoon season (south west monsoon), which brings rain to western parts of the country, Typhoon Mangkhut is enhancing this monsoon system (termed as a “Hanging Habagat” locally) to bring heavier rains to the western side of the Philippines including Palawan, the Visayas, and northern Mindanao. Mangkhut is the strongest storm of the year so far — currently a category 5 equivalent storm (on the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — SSHWS) with 1-minute sustained winds of 166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour) as reported by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).
In a country that is used to the regular rhythm of typhoon seasons, 2017 disrupted the pattern and was a surprisingly quiet year in terms of landfalling typhoons in the Philippines. While 26 named storms formed in the western North Pacific basin, equaling the long-term average, all other tropical cyclone statistics fell below the 1981-2010 average. Only 12 of these named storms developed into typhoons, and just four reached a strength of category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson scale. No typhoons made landfall in the Philippines during the year for only the fifth time in recorded history.