Ursula may become typhoon before Eastern Samar landfall

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MANILA, Philippines – Severe Tropical Storm Ursula (Phanfone) continued to intensify late Tuesday morning, December 24, as it threatened the region of Eastern Visayas.

In a briefing past 11 am on Tuesday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Ursula now has maximum winds of 110 kilometers per hour (km/h) from the previous 100 km/h and gustiness of up to 135 km/h from the previous 125 km/h.

The severe tropical storm is already 185 kilometers east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar. But it slowed down, now moving west at 20 km/h from the previous 30 km/h.

Ursula is expected to make landfall in Eastern Samar on Tuesday afternoon or early evening, possibly between 5 pm and 9 pm. It could strengthen into a typhoon before hitting land, warned PAGASA.

Below is the latest list of areas where tropical cyclone wind signals are raised.

Signal No. 2 (winds of 61 km/h to 120 km/h)

Signal No. 1 (winds of 30 km/h to 60 km/h)

PAGASA said moderate to strong winds will begin affecting the northeastern part of Mindanao and Eastern Visayas on Tuesday; Bicol and parts of Central Visayas on Tuesday afternoon or evening; Calabarzon as well as parts of Mimaropa and Western Visayas on Wednesday morning, December 25, Christmas Day; and Metro Manila, Bulacan, and Bataan on Wednesday morning or afternoon.

"Medium- to high-risk structures may experience light damage," the state weather bureau said.

Specifically for areas under Signal No. 2 in Eastern Visayas, PAGASA warned of damaging gale- to storm-force winds which may begin to be felt Tuesday afternoon. Such winds would also be felt in Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Romblon, Aklan, Capiz, and portions of Antique, Iloilo, and the northern part of Cebu by Tuesday evening; and in Marinduque, the southern part of Quezon, and portions of Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro on Wednesday morning.

"This may bring light to moderate damage to high-risk structures and at most light damage to medium-risk structures," said PAGASA. (READ: Why is it now called tropical cyclone 'wind' – and not 'warning' – signals?)

PAGASA Senior Weather Specialist Chris Perez said Ursula's outer rainbands are already extending over Eastern Visayas and Caraga. Rain from the severe tropical storm has begun.

Between Tuesday, December 24, and Wednesday noon, December 25

Between Wednesday noon and late evening, December 25

There may be flash floods and landslides in areas in Ursula's path. (READ: FAST FACTS: Tropical cyclones, rainfall advisories)

Starting Tuesday too, rough seas will prevail in the eastern seaboards of the country; Tuesday afternoon or evening in the inland waters of Southern Luzon and the Visayas; and Wednesday afternoon in the western seaboards of Southern Luzon. Travel is risky.

Maritime trips had been canceled as early as Monday, December 23. As of 4 am on Tuesday, the Philippine Coast Guard said it has recorded a total of 16,649 stranded passengers in Bicol, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Southern Tagalog, Northern Mindanao, Western Mindanao, and Southern Visayas.

There are canceled flights for Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Based on its latest forecast track, Ursula is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility on Saturday, December 28.

Forecast track of Severe Tropical Storm Ursula (Phanfone) as of December 24, 2019, 11 am. Image from PAGASA

Forecast track of Severe Tropical Storm Ursula (Phanfone) as of December 24, 2019, 11 am.

Image from PAGASA

Ursula is the Philippines' 21st tropical cyclone for 2019, exceeding the yearly average of 20. (READ: LIST: PAGASA's names for tropical cyclones in 2019)

Ursula is also the second tropical cyclone for December, after Typhoon Tisoy (Kammuri). PAGASA earlier said it was expecting one or two tropical cyclones during the month.

In December 2018, the Philippines had a deadly tropical cyclone during Christmas – Tropical Depression Usman. It left 156 people dead and 105 others injured in Eastern Visayas, Bicol, and Mimaropa, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

PAGASA declared the start of the rainy season last June 14. – Rappler.com