Back home I usually keep up on the weather forecasts. However, since I’ve been in Micronesia (and time online is VERY valuable) I haven’t really kept update on the weather. It is because of this lack of attention that I was surprised to hear on Friday night that bad weather may be coming our way. As we were finishing our work at the Land Resources Office, John Waayan (Chief of Yap Land Management) told us that he may move us up to the office (which is on higher ground and was built after Typhoon Sudal, which was a category 4 storm in 2004) this weekend. Reed and I were shocked when he told us a tropical storm could be heading our way. Although we appreciated his concern we told him that we would keep our eye on the weather and call him if we needed anything. Later that night we were greeted by a few other local friends (including Margie) that provided us with satellite images of the storm (now named Tropical Storm Songda). As we went to bed on Friday night, we could tell the winds were starting to pick up, a sign that the storm would soon pay us a visit.
When we awoke the next morning (Saturday, May 21) it was fairly windy. We were supposed to do a 3 tank dive with Dieter at Yap Pacific but one of the 3 dives was going to take place at Yap Caverns and Lionfish Wall. Both sites are on the southern tip of Yap and if the storm was close we know that the water would be too rough for diving. So we decided it was best that we not dive at all (not knowing how fast the storm was traveling). Throughout the day we had a number of friends of locals stop by to give us updates and make sure we were ok (and planning for the storm). Raymond (who works for Land Management) offered us his flatbed truck and told us he is ready to help at a moments notice. All of us were flattered by the generosity and kindness. As the day went on the wind become stronger and stronger and by the time we went to bed the wind gusts were probably at around 15 – 25 mph. At the time we went to bed, there was still no rain.
Sunday morning was a completely different story. Overnight it started to rain and in the morning we had strong winds (reaching up to 60mph) and rain (at times, it was raining horizontally). We actually did have to talk a little louder so we could hear over the wind. Although it was windy, there wasn’t a huge sense of urgency or danger. We spent most of the day just hanging out around the house. At one point (for about 2 hours) we did lose power. Some of the students were at a local restaurant when this happened. Reed and I drove out there to pick them up, but to our surprise, the restaurant was still open! They were using candles and cooking with gas ovens! Although there was no feel of eminent danger, we were still cautious. We knew the most dangerous point would be around 11:30 pm (high tide). The forecast called for storm surge to reach 1 to 2 feet above high tide. Around 2 feet or higher would put the water over our storm wall and we would need to move to higher ground. As 11:30 approached friends stopped by to check on us (including our neighbor whose own property was flooded due to poor drainage). When it was clear that the water would not surpass our storm wall we felt safe enough to head to bed.
When we awoke Sunday morning there was still some rain and wind but it was obvious the storm had passed. When we looked online we were shocked to see that the storm was originally headed straight for Yap and then sorta moved west and around the island before heading north to northwest. Although Yap was still in the storm’s path, we avoided the eye of the storm. Still, after 30+ hours we all had stories to tell about the time we lived through a tropical storm and the birth of a typhoon. After passing through Yap Songda would become a Category 5 typhoon (FYI…we call these storms Hurricanes in the Atlantic and Typhoons in the Pacific) with winds surpassing 150 mph. It moved close to the Philippines (as a Category 5 storm) before losing strength (back down to a Tropical Storm) and veering to the east (hitting Tokyo, Japan).