Super Typhoon Songda set to lash China, Japan (PHOTOS)

    A heaving storm system known as Super Typhoon Songda is approaching the southern Chinese coast, scouring the sea with screaming winds and scrunching waves into 38-foot humps. Vessels are scurrying into harbor and nearby governments, including Japan, are prepping for intense rain and punishing wind. Though it's probably not the true meaning of the word, type Songda into Google's translation tool and you get Chinese characters meaning “served” – exactly what this Super Typhoon could do to southeast Asia.

    Songda, which has an eye spanning 12 miles, is feeding on abnormally warm ocean-surface temperatures and an absence of strong wind shear to grow in size. So what defines a Super Typhoon?

    The term is used by the U.S. Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii to I.D. systems with sustained surface winds of at least 150 m.p.h., equal in strength to Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic. They are the blue whales of weather, pretty much as big as they come for storms.

    The most intense tropical cyclone on record was 1979's Super Typhoon Tip, with an ear-popping 870 m.b. center of low pressure. Tip was so massive it would've covered the entire western half of the United States. And Super Typhoon Nina is ranked as the fourth deadliest tropical storm in history after it helped collapse China's Banqiao Dam in 1975, killing between 100,000 and 229,000 people.

    However, so far Songda hasn't lashed out badly. Songda passed by the Philippines yesterday without making a big mess, prompting a press release from the central information agency that began, “Prayers do work!” And while it briefly attained Category 5 strength earlier today, with maximum wind gusts of 195 m.p.h., it has settled down somewhat. Still, look at the size of this thing:{}

    After China, Songda is expected to whip past Okinawa, home of the U.S. Kadena Air Base. Our soldiers will not be surfing at the beach this weekend. Here's how much rain the storm is dropping, displayed in a neat 3D flyover model. The animation is based on data gathered earlier today by NASA and Japan's TRMM satellite.

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