MANILA – A cyclone with the international name ''Hagupit'' has intensified into a typhoon, threatening areas in the eastern section of the Philippines a month ahead of the historic and highly anticipated visit of Pope Francis.
Philippine state weather bureau PAGASA said Hagupit remains outside the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR). The typhoon was spotted 1,670 kilometers east of Mindanao as of 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Hagupit, which will be named ''Ruby'' once it enters PAR on Thursday, was packing maximum sustained winds of 130 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gusts of up to 160 kph.
Hagupit was moving west northwest at 30 kph.
State weather forecasters said the typhoon will either make landfall in the Philippines or move towards southern Japan and just graze the eastern section of the country.
Hagupit will skirt the Philippine landmass if the high pressure area (HPA), an anti-cyclone system, in the northern hemisphere weakens. This will force Hagupit to re-curve towards southern Japan.
The other scenario is for the typhoon to cross over the Philippines, hitting the Visayas area first. PAGASA said with the typhoon's current speed, it might make its first landfall over the weekend.
Speaking to dzMM, PAGASA weather forecaster Benison Estareja said based on the Philippines' climatological history and data, weather disturbances usually head towards the Visayas-Mindanao area during this time of the year.
''Maaari naman itong mag-recurve sa binabantayan nating high pressure system, na kapag ito (high pressure area) ay bumagtas from China to Japan, itong bagyo eh maaaring umakyat,'' he said.
Estareja said the typhoon is expected to grow stronger as it gathers more power over water, but he said data show that Hagupit will not be as strong as super typhoon ''Yolanda'', which ravaged parts of Visayas last year.
The typhoon's effects will not be felt immediately once it enters the PAR. Estareja said rains and winds brought by the typhoon may be felt beginning Friday.
The Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center of the US Navy, meanwhile, said the storm was packing one-minute sustained winds of 157 kph (85 knots) as of 2 a.m. Wednesday, Manila time.
The JTWC forecasts Hagupit to pack as much as 240 kph (130 knots) winds by December 6 (Saturday), 2 a.m., when it is nearer the Philippines.
Graphic warning for typhoon "Hagupit" by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center