• Super Typhoon Soudelor underwent rapid intensification Monday and has become the strongest tropical cyclone on Earth so far in 2015.
  • Soudelor is expected to continue to track to the west-northwest the next several days over open waters of the western Pacific Ocean.
  • This track may bring it near Japan's far southwest Ryukyu Islands, including Ishigakijima and Miyakojima, as well as Taiwan and eastern China late this week.
  • Soudelor is expected to weaken as it approaches these areas, but it may still be a strong, formidable typhoon.
Soudelor is intensifying rapidly over the western Pacific Ocean after raking through Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the northern Mariana Islands, Sunday night and early Monday.

Super Typhoon Soudelor became the fifth super typhoon of this year Monday after undergoing a replacement of its eyewall, a process which occurs in all intense tropical cyclones. A super typhoon is defined by sustained wind speeds of at least 150 mph.

According to Monday's 5 p.m. EDT bulletin from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Soudelor had strengthened into the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph (one-minute average) with gusts to 220 mph.

Soudelor has maintained its strength and as of 11 p.m. EDT Monday, Soudelor continues to have maximum sustained winds of 180 mph and some additional strengthening is possible.

Low wind shear and very warm sea surface temperatures have allowed Soudelor to ramp up quickly; the cyclone was just a minimal typhoon 36 hours earlier.

Soudelor continues to track to the west-northwest over the open waters of the Western Pacific.

Soudelor has become the strongest tropical cyclone seen anywhere on Earth so far in 2015, at least by JTWC satellite estimation. Cyclone Pam in March reached peak estimated sustained winds of about 165 mph (145 knots) in the South Pacific basin.

On this path, Soudelor will move toward Japan's southwestern Ryukyu islands by Friday.

For now, the main island of Okinawa (including Kadena Air Base) lies at the north end of the forecast swath, but it remains far too soon to rule out a closer pass of the center of Soudelor to Okinawa.

Taiwan and China are also likely to be impacted by Soudelor this weekend. Even though it may be weakening by then, Soudelor could still be a very strong typhoon. Its center may pass directly over Taipei, the Taiwanese capital.

Saipan: Damage "Extensive"

Intensifying from a Category 1 to Category 2 equivalent storm, Soudelor's eye passed directly over the island of Saipan, home to about 48,000 residents.

A state of disaster and significant emergency was declared by Acting Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.

High winds downed power poles, removed roofs off buildings and flooded Saipan's power plant. About 350 people were in emergency shelters, as of Monday morning, the Pacific Daily News reported.

"From looking at the damage, I would guess weeks to months to restore power. It took about three to six months to restore service on Guam after Pongsona," Dr. Phillip Dauterman told thePacific Daily News in an email. "This is not the total damage of Pongsona, but it is close."

Saipan International Airport recorded a peak wind gust to 91 mph just before 11 p.m. local time Sunday night, as the western eyewall approached, before wind observations dropped off -- not to mention the instrumentation erroneously reported snow -- for about an hour.

Soudelor passed north of Guam but wind gusts over 30 mph and light rain were measured. High surf from Soudelor will continue for the next few days.

Soudelor, a name contributed by the Federated States of Micronesia, was a legendary chief on the island of Pohnpei, about 1,650 kilometers (1025 miles) east-southeast of Guam.