Currently barreling northwest across the Pacific, Lekima intensified Wednesday night with winds at 205 kilometers per hour (about 127 miles per hour), the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.
It is expected to strengthen into a super typhoon by Thursday night — potentially reaching winds of 240 kph (about 150 mph).
Japan’s southern Ryukyu Islands, which stretch north of Taiwan to the Japanese island of Kyushu, are expected to be hardest hit Thursday night. The chain of islands includes Okinawa, with a population of 1.4 million people.
The possibility of a super typhoon could mean a “serious natural disaster is possibly to take place,” said Mitsugu Noguchi of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Okinawa office.
The storm is expected to come closest to Taiwan Friday morning local time before moving toward the China coast, south of Shanghai, Saturday evening. By the time it hits China, it could still be equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 160 kph (about 100 mph), which could bring significant wind damage and flooding up the Chinese coast over the weekend.
In preparation, Japan, China and Taiwan have issued severe weather warnings and are ordering residents to prepare for the typhoon.
The cities of Miyakojima and Ishigaki, both in the Ryukyu island chain, have issued an evacuation advisory — classified as level 4 among the 5 levels of evacuation orders. The two cities collectively are home to about 104,000 people.
Lekima is the fourth typhoon in the western Pacific this week — Typhoon Wipha brought intense gales and rain to China last weekend, Typhoon Francisco made landfall in Japan on Tuesday, and Typhoon Krosa is now forming slowly in the Pacific, expected to hit Japan sometime next week.
CNN’s Chie Kobayashi, Haley Brink, and Taylor Ward contributed to this report.