Tropical cyclone heads for southern Thailand

No cyclone has hit Thailand in January in at least 68 years. Pabuk may be unprecedented.

Koh Samui
The unsuspecting Thai island of Koh Samui [Getty Images]

Tropical Storm Pabuk has formed within a mass of thunderstorms that have already brought torrential rain to southern Vietnam. As a cyclone, it presents a current danger to shipping but its real threat is that of an out-of-season cyclone, heading for southern Thailand and southern Myanmar.

Cyclone is the family name and represents all tropical revolving storms which start as a depression, strengthen to storm and may develop into a typhoon. The classification is determined by the strength of wind blowing around the centre of the cyclone.

Reported on, Seree Supratid of the Climate Change and Disaster Center at Rangsit University stated thatPabuk is likely to be the most devastating one to hit the region since 1962. It’s set to (affect) the southern tip of Thailand from Thursday and then careen all the way north.”

Thai Meteorological Department records list Tropical Storm Harriet as the most deadly cyclone to hit Thailand. It killed 935 people in October 1962. The only typhoon ever known to have hit Thailand was Gay which, in November 1989, also made landfall in the south and took the lives of 602 people.

According to the Thai Meteorological Department “The country is free from tropical cyclones from January through March.” That statement was made in 2010 in a paper covering records that go back to 1951.

In those 68 recorded years, there have been no tropical cyclones at all in January, February or March in Thailand or the Gulf of Thailand. Even in December, this would be a rarity: this is holiday season throughout Thailand for foreigners and locals alike.

The damage potential of tropical cyclones is four-fold: wind, rain, waves and surge. Battering waves and storm surge are almost always the most damaging, In the case of Pabuk, gales and torrential rain are likely to be a nuisance but damage will probably be minor. The beaches and coastal properties are at risk from the waves, currently 4 metres in height around the cyclone, and maybe from any storm surge.

The southern shoreline of Thailand, with unlimited fetch to the east into the South China Sea, can see wave heights of 6-11m, as were generated by Typhoon Gay in 1989. Storm surges along the steep southern shoreline of Thailand, are usually small. The islands are more susceptible and Koh Samui is likely to see widespread flooding.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies