Typhoon Noul is intensifying in the Western Pacific Ocean, and appears to be headed for a collision with the northern Philippine island of Luzon this weekend as a compact but intense storm. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, operated by the U.S. Navy and Air Force, has shifted the storm’s projected forecast track to potentially make landfall in Luzon, before recurving to the northeast toward Japan early next week. Previous forecasts had shown that Noul would miss the Philippines entirely. As the world’s most disaster-prone nation, however, it has endured everything from typhoons to volcanoes; this year, the Philippines lies in the path of what could be some particularly vicious storms that will be supercharged by unusually mild ocean waters. The overabundance of ocean heat content is in large part related to an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which has boosted ocean surface temperatures in parts of the tropical Pacific, and altered wind and weather patterns.

Tropical cyclones are like giant heat engines. They derive their strength in part from water vapor and heat from warm ocean waters. Typhoon Noul is not expected to become a dreaded super typhoon, such as Haiyan was when it wiped out much of Tacloban, on the island of Leyte, in 2014. That storm was among the strongest-ever tropical cyclones on record to make landfall worldwide, with sustained winds of about 190 miles per hour. Typhoon Noul is projected to peak as a Category 4 storm, and make landfall during the weekend with winds closer to 125 miles per hour, although tropical cyclone-intensity forecasts made more than several hours in advance have considerable uncertainty. MORE