What is the difference between a cyclone, a typhoon and a hurricane? That is such an easy answer as the answer is there is no difference. Different words with the same meaning used in different parts of the world. Filipinos are very adept at dealing with typhoons in the Philippines regardless of what they are called.

In the Philippines, these storms are called typhoons. We also use terms tropical depression and tropical storm here.  Filipinos tend to “blow off” tropical depressions. As one approaches they often say “It is just a depression, not typhoon.”  I would say pay attention, the winds are much lower but that doesn’t mean the rain will be. Flooding and landslides are the biggest killers in a typhoon or other seaward storms that come ashore.

Never Dismiss a Tropical Storm in the Philippines

The deadliest storm on record for the Philippines was Tropical Storm Thelma. It killed an estimated 5000 to 8000 people. After A typhoon in the PhilippinesClearly they were not able to get an accurate count during that time. It hit the Manila area and refused to leave, causing massive flooding.

Following is a list of the wettest tropical storms. As you can see, Baguio is the hardest hit area for these. It is a mountain city and many foreigners like to live there for the cooler temperatures.

Wettest recorded tropical cyclones

Wettest tropical cyclone in the Philippines
Highest known recorded totals
Precipitation Storm Location Ref
Rank mm in
1 2210.0 87.01 July 1911 cyclone Baguio City [7]
2 1216.0 47.86 Carla 1967 Baguio City [7]
3 1085.8 42.45 Utor/Feria 2001 Baguio City [6]
4 1012.7 39.87 Mindulle/Igme 2004 [24]
5 994.6 39.16 Zeb/Iliang 1998 Baguio City [24]
6 902.0 35.51 Kujira/Dante 2009 [25]
7 869.6 34.24 Dinah/Openg 1977 Western Luzon [26]
8 817.9 32.20 Elaine 1974 Baguio City [27]
9 782.3 30.80 Bess/Susang 1974 Baguio City [28]
10 723.0 29.46 Linfa/Chedeng 2003 Tondoligan Park, Dagupan, Pangasinan [29]


Typhoons in the Philippines

The Philippines averages about 20 typhoons a year. I’m amazed at how well bamboo and thatch buildings hold up to these storms.  However, those kinds of homes in its direct path are usually completely destroyed.

There are certain areas that are prone to typhoons. There are other areas that rarely see them. Until last year the Davao Mindanao area had never seen one. That storm caused massive hardship along the northern coast of Mindanao. Palawan was also once thought to be a safe haven from typhoons and tropical depressions. Now it too has been hit by a typhoon.  Still Mindanao and Palawan see far fewer storms than the rest of the country. What is causing the change?  They say it is global warming. Davao had never been hit by a typhoon since they have been keeping records. More than 100 years of no typhoons.

During Typhoon Franks ApproachOn the other hand, the area between Luzon and Taiwan is known as typhoon ally. Many storms track to that area. They often cross the northern section of Luzon.  Manila sees quite a few typhoons.

Cebu is mostly spared of typhoons but it is not immune as Davao was once thought to be. During my first year in the Philippines, Cebu was hit by an out of season typhoon. It caused a good deal of damage and hardship in the Visayas or middle region of the country. It caused one ferry to sink, killing over 100 people and was the catalyst for changes in Philippine regulations for ferry transport. Large vessels use to be allowed to depart. That is no longer true.

This storm, Typhoon Frank or Fengshen came in fast and with very little warning. We also had one form right on top of Bogo that was not predicted.  It was given a name by PAGASA but as far as I could tell not recognized by any other part of the world.

My Personal Impressions of Typhoon Fengshen

I was kind of excited when I heard the storm would be approaching. It was my first typhoon by any name. I was also a little scared. What I remember most is during the middle of the night, the lights were out, my monkey was freaked out and the wind sounded like it was exploding at times.

I was getting concerned because I thought we were still hours away from landfall. In fact, the worst was already over. I mention that in the video that follows. This was not during the worst part of the storm but it was over for us within a couple of hours.

It caused a lot of damage in Iloilo City but not as much in northern Cebu. However, the power in my home was out for three days. There was heavy damage to roads; I saw one very large tree down and many smaller trees down. The banana grove behind our house was flattened than a squashed pancake. In fact, I think it was gone before the sun went down.

Some homes in Bogo were damaged. I saw one moved off its foundation a bit and its is still like that five years later. Some of the nipa huts took damage but I was amazed how well some of them stood up, especially the ones built on stilts over the water in the Bay of Bogo.

One of the biggest issues for me was that I was low on money and the ATM’s were down for three days. Jessie finally went to Cebu City to get some money. We were out of food and money.

Bogo City has come a long way since 2008 and I don’t think the ATMs would be down for that long now. At the time, none had their own power source and at least one does now. Probably more have backup generators now but I don’t know. There are only three ATM machines in Bogo City that can be used to access money internationally. There was also a the problem with the Internet being down, I couldn’t contact my US bank to send money.

My home is built from concrete blocks and we were in no real danger. The only issue for me was that I couldn’t get moneyTyphoons in the Philippines Cause Much Damage and boredom from a lack of electricity. I was hungry though. We had only been here for a month and didn’t know anyone but our landlady who acts like we are bothering her if we ask anything, even information. Still, my hardships were very minor compared to many that lost everything during this storm. I don’t think anyone in the Bogo area was hit that hard but further south, people were hit very hard.

The Philippines also renames the storms. While the rest of the world calls it one name, the Philippines calls it something else. The typhoon that hit Cebu was known as Fengshen in most of the world but by the name of Frank in the Philippines. The typhoon names seem to have a Japanese name internationally. I don’t know and I’m guessing Japan has the agency that names them in this part of the world. Since Japan occupied the Philippines by force, that just might have something to do with it with the Philippines changing the name. It is pure speculation on my part. I’m probably wrong but it makes a lot of sense to me.

The Philippines does not use the standard category 1 through category 5 system either. Instead there are signals 1, 2, 3 and 4. Here is the breakdown on that:

  • PSWS #1 – Tropical cyclone winds of 30 km/h (19 mph) to 60 km/h (37 mph) are expected within the next 36 hours. (Note: If a tropical cyclone forms very close to the area, then a shorter lead time is seen on the warning bulletin.)
  • PSWS #2 – Tropical cyclone winds of 60 km/h (37 mph) to 100 km/h (62 mph) are expected within the next 24 hours.
  • PSWS #3 – Tropical cyclone winds of 100 km/h (62 mph) to 185 km/h (115 mph) are expected within the next 18 hours.
  • PSWS #4 – Tropical cyclone winds of greater than 185 km/h (115 mph) are expected within 12 hours.

I like the way they break it into time of expected impact.  It could mislead someone not familiar with the system though. It might appear that a storm is getting stronger when it is really getting closer.

Deadliest Typhoons in the Philippines

Rank[15] Storm Dates of impact Deaths
1 Thelma/Uring 1991 1991, November 4–7 5,101-8,000
2 Angela Typhoon 1867, September 22 1,800[17]
3 Winnie 2004 2004, November 27–30 1,593
4 October 1897 Typhoon 1897, October 7 1,500[17]
5 Ike/Nitang 1984 1984, September 3–6 1,492
6 Fengshen/Frank 2008 2008, June 20–23 1,410
7 Durian/Reming 2006 2006, November 29-December 1 1,399
8 Washi/Sendong 2011 2011, December 16–17 1,268
9 Bopha/Pablo 2012 2012, December 2–9 1,146
10 October 1617 Typhoon 1617, October 10 1,000[17]


And finally a listing of the most damaging storms in the Philippines, I see my old friend Typhoon Frank managed to make the listing.  While the deadliest storm to strike the Philippines didn’t even make the list. The most destructive is the one storm to hit Davao. It caused most of the damage along the north central coast of Mindanao. The flooding was horrific and many lost their lives. I’m surprised it is not higher on the list of deadliest but it came in at only number nine. That means the other storms were even more devastating. Having witnessed the news coverage for Bopa, it is chilling to see it at number nine.

Most destructive Typhoons in the Philippines

Costliest Philippine typhoons
Rank Names Dates of impact PHP USD
1 Bopha, (Pablo) December 2 -9, 2012 42.2 billion 1.04 billion
2 Parma, (Pepeng) October 2–10, 2009 27.3 billion 608 million
3 Nesat, (Pedring) September 26–28, 2011 15 billion 333 million
4 Fengshen, (Frank) June 20 -23, 2008 13.5 billion 301 million
5 Ketsana, (Ondoy) September 25 -27, 2009 11 billion 244 million
6 Mike, (Ruping) November 10 – 14, 1990 10.8 billion 241 million
7 Angela, (Rosing) October 30 – November 4, 1995 10.8 billion 241 million
8 Flo, (Kadiang) October 2 – October 6, 1993 8.75 billion 195 million
9 Megi (Juan) October 18 – October 21, 2010 8.32 billion 193 million
10 Babs, (Loleng) October 20 – 23 1998 6.79 billion 151 million


You won’t see the mass exodus from the coast lines of the expected impact area like you would in the USA. If you do wish to make an escape, do it very early as the planes are usually grounded soon after a signal is released from PAGASA. Trying to run from it on a ferry would be pointless. One problem in running from a typhoon is they can change their path  and you might just run right into it as there is no deeply inland region like there is in the USA.

Super Typhoon MikeMost Filipinos can’t afford to run from it and they are use to them. They tend to sit them out. That can be very deadly though. If you are in the path and can go, you probably should. Most of the storms don’t cause massive damage but when they do, it is devastating.

It is very hard to predict that too. There was a super typhoon that made landfall in the Philippines a year or two ago. It struck in typhoon ally, on the northeastern coast of Luzon. I thought there would be horrific damage. Of course, those in its direct path on the coast line where hit hard and some areas were very heard to reach. That areas has mountains on the coastline though and shielded most from the damage. The storm weakened very fast. It did far less damage than I expected it too.

People in these areas are adept at building and living in these areas and seem to know how to limit the damage. That’s just a guess that I made from watching how well people recover from most of the storms. Sometimes though, recover is long and hard.

You should have a much better understanding of typhoons in the Philippines now. I am not a weather expert and you should keep that in mind. I do have experience with them though and can share that with you. If you have any questions or additions to the story, please share them in the comments section.

By Rusty Ferguson

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