Ursula intensifies into severe tropical storm

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MANILA, Philippines – Ursula (Phanfone) strengthened from a tropical storm into a severe tropical storm before dawn on Tuesday, December 24, before its expected Christmas Eve landfall in Eastern Samar.

In a bulletin issued 5 am on Tuesday, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Ursula is already 315 kilometers east of Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

The severe tropical storm is moving west northwest at the same relatively fast pace of 30 kilometers per hour (km/h).

Ursula now has maximum winds of 95 km/h from the previous 85 km/h and gustiness of up to 115 km/h from the previous 105 km/h.

PAGASA said it is not yet ruling out the possibility that Ursula could become a typhoon before landfall or while crossing the Philippines' inland seas.

Ursula is forecast to make landfall in Eastern Samar on Tuesday afternoon or evening.

Below is the latest list of areas where tropical cyclone wind signals are raised. Note that Signal Nos. 1 and 2 are raised in even more areas. Metro Manila is now under Signal No. 1.

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 morning or noon; 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, and portions of Capiz, Iloilo, and the northern part of Cebu by Tuesday evening.

"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?)

Aside from strong winds, Ursula will be bringing heavy rain starting Tuesday.

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

Between Wednesday noon and late evening, December 25

Areas in Ursula's path must be on alert for possible flash floods and landslides. (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. There are canceled flights for Tuesday 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, 5 am. Image from PAGASA

Forecast track of Severe Tropical Storm Ursula (Phanfone) as of December 24, 2019, 5 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