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Q&A: How storms change course

Two satellite images taken two hours apart were blended by NOAA to show the proximity of Pacific storms Parma, left, and Melor, right, on Oct. 7.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Two satellite images taken two hours apart were blended by NOAA to show the proximity of Pacific storms Parma, left, and Melor, right, on Oct. 7.

How storms change course

Someone was telling me that the same tropical system crossed the Philippines three times in a few days. How does that happen?

The Pacific storm Parma hit the Philippines three times in a period of days earlier this month.

On Oct. 3, it hit the northern tip of Luzon Island as a Category 1 typhoon as it moved east to west, then stalled in the South China Sea. On Oct. 6, it reversed direction and moved to the southeast and again struck Luzon. Then on Oct. 8 it changed directions again and moved west and back over the Philippines.

How does a storm change course like that?

In this case, it was due to Parma's proximity to a much stronger storm, the Category 4 typhoon Melor, which approached the Philippines from the east just as Parma has cleared the Philippines moving west. When two tropical storms or hurricanes approach each other, their centers start circulating about a point between them. The larger of the storms dominates the interaction and draws the smaller of the storms toward it. This phenomena is known as the Fujiwara Effect, named after a Japanese scientist who first described it in 1921.

So Melor, with its 135-mph winds, pulled Parma, with its 60-mph winds, toward it to the west and back over the Philippines. Then Melor continued its northeast track and the storms split, allowing Parma to move west again over the Philippines for a third time, this time as a tropical depression.

Parma killed more than 160 people. Melor weakened before brushing the coast of Japan.

Meaning of a phrase

What does the phrase "baited breath" mean?

English wordsmith Michael Quinion ( says the correct spelling is bated breath, though these days spelling it baited has become commonplace, much to the chagrin of linguists.

Bated is a contraction of abated, which means to decrease in force, intensity or violence. So the phrase "with bated breath" would indicate a person who stops breathing due to awe, terror, anticipation or some other strong emotion.

Quinion says Shakespeare is the first writer known to have used the phrase, in The Merchant of Venice, when Shylock says to Antonio: "Shall I bend low and, in a bondman's key, with bated breath and whisp'ring humbleness, say this . . . "

Almost 300 years later, Mark Twain also used it in Tom Sawyer: "Every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale."

Q&A: How storms change course 10/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 25, 2009 10:13am]
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