Over the past several years I have noticed a difference in opinions of people across the western pacific and the world on this exact question, “Who is the official Typhoon Warning Agency?” Plus, what is the definition of a “Super Typhoon” From what I have seen and heard from many around the world is that most have no clue or think they know but in reality are not even close.
First I want to start off by mentioning that in the Western Pacific there are over Ten Forecast Agencies that create Tropical Cyclone Forecast at one time or another pending how close a storm is to their respected countries.
To name a few they are the Japan Meteorological Agency, China Meteorological Agency, Hong Kong Observatory, Indonesia Meteorological Agency, Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Korea Meteorological Association, Malaysia Meteorological Agency, PAGASA, Taiwan, Thailand Meteorological Department, Singapore Met Agency the Guam National Weather Service and more. All these forecast agencies create their own graphics and provide valuable information to their respected countries and are approved by the World Meteorological Association to do just that.
With one exception, one of these agencies is not part of the World Meteorological Organization. (WMO) Yet this agency gets displayed on numerous website and even mainstream TV organizations as a official warning agency.
Let me start off by saying that JTWC is a great agency in its own right and for what it does. Forecasting the Weather for the US Military. And to be honest I like to use the agency to compare other agency forecast, But the JTWC is not one of the WMO designated Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres, or one of its Typhoon Warning Centers. In Fact with headquarters in Hawaii it is not even located in the Western Pacific.
This forecast Agency was originally developed and created to support United States Government and mainly military installations after the disaster of Typhoon Cobra that sunk four ships East of the Philippines in 1944. Being part of the military in my past and actually working with this agency I can honestly say they are designed and dedicated to stopping a disaster like that happening again.
With that said the general public should not use this agency and for numerous reasons.
A main one is they point at US Bases overseas in there long range forecast. If you don’t believe this next time look closely at a initial warning from JTWC, it more often than not pointed towards a US Military Base. This is often the case with Okinawa, we always get worried emails from people in Okinawa when they see the forecast showing a deadly storm blasting the southern Japanese Island, yet after pointing them towards the official agency they get more relieved as the forecast typically is pointing away from the military installation. The reason they do this is for planning purposes, most bases take time to get ready for a storm, and it is better to make it worst case scenario than be under forecasted.
Another reason is the plain and fairly obvious statement on there website that reads.
Once again, I do think this agency is good at what they do and I always use them when comparing with other agencies on a forecast track, but when discussing official warnings and dealing with typhoon planning a civilian whom has nothing to do with the US military should not consult JTWC.
With that said, back to the question, who is official?
According to the WMO it is RSMC TOKYO or the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). They are the hub of the Typhoon Committee established in 1968 and communicate with all the other WMO Agencies in regards to typhoon tracks. (JTWC not in the Typhoon Committee.) Below is a graphic from the WMO Stating where the official Agency boundaries are.
The other cyclone warning agencies across the western pacific and eastern asia are responsible for their specific countries and creating typhoon warnings and watches for there local areas based on the threats they deem to be most severe, yet this does not stop them from issuing a forecast track as well but remember a they are all apart of the Typhoon Committee and will communicate with fellow members before doing so.
All of these agencies also follow the WMO rules for naming these storms, with the exception of PAGASA (Philippines) who names their own storms. This is due to a few reasons two of them being the government feels people in Rural areas would remember the name easier and it gives the general public in the Philippines a more sense of urgency when it has a local name by PAGASA. Further more some old laws and governmental fixtures that keep things the way they are in the Philippines. Plus just a lack of urgency for change, if it’s not broke don’t fix it mentality.
So with that said, JMA is the official agency of the Western Pacific for Cyclone Warnings and Watches.
Now, the second half of this update… What if the correct scale to use when covering Typhoons.
To be honest this is a tricky question because there are numerous scales provided by several agencies. Some using the same wording but in different context while some use completely different wording all together.
First lets cover what is a “Super Typhoon”. By WMO standars assigned by the RSMC in Tokyo there is no such thing as Super Typhoon. So why is it used so much?
Well as said before members of the Typhoon Committee are allowed to issue their own forecast tracks and analysis, that includes working.
In this case China and the Hong Kong Observatory use the term “Super Typhoon”. It equals sustained winds at 185kph or higher. Yet the big user of the “Super” term is the
non-wmo member JTWC which also uses it but at different sustained wind speed level of 240. Needless to say this leads to a lot of people being quite confused on how strong the storm actually is.
PAGASA time and time again states they do not use the term Super Typhoon and I have never seen them use it in a forecast, but for some reason at this link define it on their webpage as a storm with winds sustained over 200kph.
With that said JMA the RSMC does not use the term Super Typhoon.
But JMA is not perfect either and often just adds to the confusion in regards to intensity.
Reason is the word “Typhoon” is a Japanese word for any major Tropical System.
So for their international naming system they use the WMO standards and a scale ranging front Strong to Violent.
Yet locally in Japan the names are never mentioned and instead a nomenclature is used. Lastly in Japan there is no intensity scale for the local warnings. Instead everything from Tropical Storm to Violent Typhoon is referred to as a Taifuu. Which has led to a lot of confusing conversations with co-workers of mine in Japan.
This is why more often than not I refer to storms on the equivalent of a Cat 1 -5 on the Saffir Simpson scale. A simple and easy to use system but this is meant for the Atlantic and zero agencies use it in the Pacific.
In the end though you can use what you wish to gauge intensity. The official scale is Via JMA but only their international scale and naming system… If that makes sense…. But if you live in Japan then you use the local information, unless you live in Japan and you are US military. Then you use JTWC… Now you see the confusion.
As always I welcome your opinion and comments. Please keep them respectful and kind, but a little debate never hurt either.
~Meteorologist Robert Speta