The Tip of the Typhoon: Telling the Story of Typhoon Tip in the Digital Age

Written By: Maris Breaton, Amber Ellis, Grace Lorenz, Hailey Bernet, Sydney Close, Tyara Oliver, Billy Noel

Typhoon Tip, also dubbed Typhoon Warling by Filipino meteorologists, began in the South Pacific, originating from a low-pressure monsoon trough on October 4th, 1979.  The monsoon trough is located in the West Pacific Ocean, between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands stretching through the Caroline Islands. Tip was originally rendered small by Tropical Storm Roger, sucking up the strong flow of waters close to the equator. Tip was to the southeast of Roger, near the Pohnpei state of Micronesia. Even with these initially unfavorable conditions and a relatively slow development, Tip could not be stopped from forming. The typhoon originated as a tropical depression that steadily morphed into a Tropical Storm before eventually being classified as a typhoon on October 9th. The conditions of Typhoon Tip quickly escalated and by October 11th, Tip was classified as a super typhoon.  With winds and rain spanning almost half as large in diameter as the continental United States, Super Typhoon Tip set a world record for the largest tropical cyclone (Science and Society). Tip continued to get stronger over the Western Pacific and reached peak intensity on October 12th. The central pressure of the typhoon at this point was among the lowest pressures associated with tropical cyclones. Tip’s circulation patterns were some of the largest on record with 1,380 miles in diameter. After its peak as a super typhoon, Typhoon Tip gradually weakened but continued raging as a typhoon for several days as it carried on moving in a western–northwestern direction. Typhoon Tip continued to weaken and shrink as it curved toward the northeast on October 17th. Two days later on October 19th, Typhoon Tip came into contact with the Japanese island of Honshu where it quickly started to decline, then becoming extratropical over northern Honshu in just a few hours. The last observation of Tip was near the Aleutian islands of Alaska around October 22nd, 1979. 

Throughout October of 1979, Tip’s storms and winds impacted several nations, taking the lives of nearly a hundred people, leaving thousands homeless, and causing several millions of dollars in damage. Before eventually making landfall, Tip passed over the Philippines, where several ships were grounded or sunk and their crews were no doubt traumatized by these encounters at sea. Initially passing over Guam on October 9th and still identified as a tropical storm, Tip poured down heavy rainfall, causing over $1.6 million in damages and showing no signs of slowing down. Growing in force, Tip continued churning and rained down on the Philippines on October 13th. Between October 13th and 19th, Tip trailed northwestward up “Typhoon alley” and caused massive damage to the fishing industries of Okinawa and other islands of the East China Sea. The flooding, rains, and storm surge cost over 22,000 homes in Japan alone. More than 600 triggered landslides there likewise played a part in the overall damage wrought. It marked the most devastating storm to Japan in a period of 13 years. 

The typhoon’s damages in Japan are the most documented, particularly those caused at the US Marine Base on Honshu, Camp Fuji. Fuel was released from fuel farm stores due to high-level winds disconnecting fuel attachment hoses and the rains eroding a retaining wall, spilling 5000 gallons of fuel–massive fires began near American military housing after the heaters ignited the spilled fuel.  Over 600 mudslides and 22000 flooded homes in Japan left 11,000 people homeless. In a camp of American Marines at Mount Fuji, 13 marines were killed. The total cost of Japanese loss was not officially tracked, but several million dollars of damage are estimated. The Philippines were also impacted by the typhoon however not as severely as Japan was. The typhoon caused heavy rainfall in the Philippines because of the rainbands it created. Guam also received heavy rainfall as a result of Typhoon Tip. China was also impacted when a Chinese freighter with a crew of 46 was split and sunk, luckily all 46 members of the crew were rescued. Other places such as Alaska, the Korean Peninsula, and Russia were impacted by Typhoon Tip but little to no information can be found on these impacts. The invisibility of economic hard numbers crystallizes the erasure of pacific impact and the inaccessibility to reliable statistics about the Pacific region in American-centric media. The name wasn’t retired because it was not deemed to have catastrophic enough consequences– we question how that could be said about consequences which are not reliably or consistently tracked. Amanda Delaney, a meteorologist who reflected on Typhoon Tip when writing about Super Typhoon Haiyan writes: “typically hurricane reconnaissance planes do not investigate typhoons in the Western Pacific however, with this system [Typhoon Tip] being close to the U.S. Air Force bases in Guam and Japan, investigating was permitted at the time” (Delaney). Evidently, Tip demonstrated that US hurricane reconnaissance was, to at least some degree, dependent on American lives.

Though no immediate art from the wake of the Typhoon was able to be observed, there seems to be an emergence of creative expression based on Typhoon Tip in the 2010s and 20s. The art that has emerged takes the story of Tip and uses it in different ways. In some retellings, the artist takes Tip’s story and uses their own creative liberty to change some of the details to suit the character that is supposed to embody the Typhoon, hence making Tip’s story their own. In a way this art is turning Tip into a surrogate, a substitute. Tip is being used as a vessel to tell and deliver the story they want to. Seeing people who take a disaster and make it their own can sometimes make you ask yourself whether it is morally acceptable and right. If you did not experience it, if it did not impact you, is it okay to claim something that negatively impacted many people as your own? One of the artists we found named HurakaYoshi took to humanizing the storm and making it a character of their own. Something interesting that we saw was that the person who made the art seemed to know it could be seen as offensive since they left this disclaimer in their description, “My characters are based on real life tropical cyclones. This is not meant to offend or disrespect people who were affected by these storms.” Whether one should or shouldn’t take offense to this form of expression, is an inner debate that might not have a definitive answer and will be perceived differently by each individual who comes across it. These creative expressions of Tip also seem to work to turn the typhoon into an effigy, Tip is being used as the model for these expressions. In “Echoes of the Bone”, the effigy is described as a skill that allows for performance to produce memory through surrogation (Joseph Roach). This description aligns with the art created from Typhoon Tip because creating this art is a performance that helps keep the memory of Tip alive and people are using Tip as a surrogate for what they want to express. 

Not all art based on this storm invoices this kind of moral debate, however. There are some other artists who retell Tip’s story word for word in video form in order to inform more people about the course the Typhoon took and the destruction it caused in its wake. There wasn’t only artforms that expressed the story of Tip, but instead on that was dedicated to the remembrance of certain individuals. The Marine camp at Mount Fuji, where 13 Americans lost their lives due to fires from the storm, produced a stone memorial and yearly tradition to commemorate the American lives lost during Tip. This memorial is observed annually on the anniversary of the Typhoon making landfall in Japan and serves to emphasize the impact of Warling (Filipino name given to Tip) on American lives while simultaneously undercutting the fact that these marines were on foreign soil, populating someone else’s land– who also experienced loss. Instead, this hyper-American response immortalizes Americans on someone else’s shores, explicating the ever-American desire to somehow claim land. The memorials set up for the marines that lost their lives while completely ignoring the Japanese people living there that also lost their lives and loved ones is an example of the way many Americans view their lives as more valuable than the lives of people living in foreign countries.

1st Marine Division > Units > 5TH MARINE REGT > 2nd Battalion 4th ...

In considering Typhoon Tip/Warling, it is important to remember that though this is referred to as “the most closely documented storm”, that is referring to the physical storm itself rather than its human impact. What was deemed worthy of monitoring was the storm and its course, which reveals our human preoccupation with a desire to possess or dominate nature through knowledge over care for other human beings. There is not a consistent human death or economic damage toll– many of the sources which we referred to would either give varying numbers of victims and some affected areas did not have an economic impact at all.  Had a storm of this capacity hit the United States or one of its territories, there would have been an extreme amount of care taken in precise and consistent numbers reported– be that for vanity or performance of care, we could not say. The memorial erected in Japan to honor the loss of those American lives  crystallizes the American-centric view on not just this storm, but global meteorological events. Inability to track down even a consistent death toll or economic damage total for every island hit seems to hone in on a sincere lack of interest by other countries in either rebuilding or merely genuinely understanding the human impact of the storm. We had some difficulty in tracking down art made as a response to this disaster, which serves to incorporate the course concepts of “forgetting” and “performance”. Surely this Typhoon was not forgotten, but there was a lack of care in preserving artistic responses to the storm, which in turn, serve the purpose of forgetting. In the digital era, there is much easier access to photographs, songs, and other art made by professionals and amateurs alike. In 1979, the digitization age had not yet had its advent and it seems that much from that time relating to this storm was never digitized. Without those archives, it is difficult to explore empathy with the people who survived Tip, and we have to consider that there is much archival information that we do not have access to.

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