Tropical Storm Mekkhala continues to head toward the Philippines, putting the country at risk for heavy rain and gusty winds for the weekend. Mekkhala started out as a cluster of showers and thunderstorms earlier in the week but became organized enough to acquire tropical depression status on Tuesday, south-southwest of Guam.
While development occurred away of Guam, rain on the northern edge of the storm brought downpours to Guam and the southern Mariana Islands on Tuesday.
Further strengthening occurred during the midweek and the system is now a tropical storm.
A general west-northwest track is expected which would take the strengthening cyclone in the direction of the Philippines.
Impacts for the Philippines are expected to begin as early as Friday night and continue through the weekend as the storm nears the central Philippines.
Pope Francis will be making a tour across parts of the Philippines from Thursday through Monday, and although his itinerary is already laid out, this storm could force changes to the schedule.
Some of the worst impacts for eastern Visayas are likely from Saturday into Saturday night, the same time Pope Francis is scheduled to make several appearances in the region.
Landfall remains likely in Samar, one of the areas hardest hit by former Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. Pope Francis will be visiting eastern Visayas to interact with people who were severely impacted by this tragedy only a little more than a year ago.
On Sunday, the Pope is schedule to hold Mass at Rizal Park in Manila, an event that the Telegraph says 6 million are expected to attend. This location is just north of the expected track of the center of the storm and far enough west to remain out of the greatest area of flooding.
As the cyclone approaches the Philippines, a slight turn to the north is possible; however, impacts from the storm would still be likely across eastern Visayas and Luzon.
While moderate wind shear will limit the strength of this tropical system; however, some strengthening is possible before landfall in the Philippines.
Rainfall of 100-200 mm (4-8 inches) will likely create flooding problems in parts of eastern Visayas and Luzon while wind gusts to near 80 kph (50 mph) remain a possibility, according to Meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.
Areas from eastern Visayas into Luzon are at greatest risk for flash flooding and mudslides, while the southern Philippines will likely see no widespread impacts from this storm.
While this cyclone is not expected to become a large and devastating typhoon, life-threatening impacts are possible. Travel may also be hindered with flooded roadways and flight cancellations likely through early in the new week.