Rai currently has sustained winds of 215 kph (130 mph), making it the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Favorable conditions across the region, including very warm ocean waters and low wind shear, led to the storm strengthening from a tropical storm to a potentially catastrophic, high-end typhoon in the past 24 hours.
Additional strengthening is expected, and the current forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is for Rai to reach 260 kph (160 mph) at landfall. This would make Rai equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane or a super typhoon.
In the Philippines, the storm is known as Odette and is being monitored locally by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
The outer bands of the storm are already spreading rain into the southern and central regions of the country and conditions will deteriorate quickly in the coming hours.
It is already Thursday in the Phillippines, and from Thursday morning through Friday morning, the rains are expected to be “heavy to intense and at times torrential,” PAGASA said in its forecast bulletin early Thursday morning.
More than 250 mm (10 inches) of rain will fall across portions of Mindanao and the Visayas. The intense rain is expected to cause widespread flooding, flash flooding, and landslides in higher terrain.
In addition to the strong winds, flooding and landslides, coastal regions will be on alert for three to four meters of storms surge and shipping vessels will face extremely rough seas over the next several days.
December storms are not uncommon
In the West Pacific, there is no defined “season” for tropical systems as there are in other basins like the North Atlantic (June 1 to November 30). While activity peaks in the late summer to early autumn, storms can occur in any month of the year.
The Philippines is no stranger to catastrophic storms in December. In the last decade, numerous intense and deadly storms have impacted the region.