TYPHOONS, TORNADOES AND POWERFUL STORMS IN JAPAN IN 2011 AND 2012

TYPHOONS IN JAPAN IN 2011

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Damage in Kasugi from
Typhoon on Sept 21 2011
In 2011, a total of nine typhoons approached Japan. Three of them--Typhoon No. 6, No. 12 and No. 15--made landfall causing serious damage. In September 2011, Typhoon No. 12 raged northward from Shikoku to the Chugoku region, while Typhoon No. 15 landed in Shizuoka Prefecture. The two storms ultimately left 112 people dead or missing amid record rainfall and damage. In the case of Typhoon No. 15, evacuation advisories and orders were issued for about 1.4 million people, mainly in the Tokai region.

The Yomiuri Shimbun,reported: What was common to these three typhoons was their relatively slow speed and strength. Usually, a typhoon weakens as it moves northward due to cooler sea temperatures. However, when Typhoon No. 6, No. 12 and No. 15 approached Japan, seawater temperatures around the country were between 28 C and 29 C, about 1 C higher than normal. The core atmospheric pressure of Typhoon No. 15 dropped by 35 hectopascals 24 hours after it entered the sea near Japan and rose to 940 hectopascals at its peak strength. The Meteorological Agency said: "The typhoon was just above the Japan Current and there is a possibility that the current, which transfers a large amount of heat from the tropical zone to the temperate zone, supplied energy to the typhoon." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 5, 2011]

Typhoon No. 6 landed in Tokushima Prefecture on July 20 and Typhoon No. 12 landed in Kochi Prefecture on Sept. 3. Typhoon No. 15, however, gathered strength as it moved from the sea off Okinawa Prefecture to the sea off western Japan--going from "strong" to "very strong" under the agency's classification--before eventually touching down in Shizuoka Prefecture on Sept. 21. The last typhoon of such power hit the prefecture was Typhoon No. 13 in Sept. 1993.

Record rainfall was recorded this summer, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, as Typhoon No. 12 brought more than 2,000 millimeters of torrential rain to the Kii Peninsula (2,439 millimeters was recorded at Kamikatayamamura in Nara Prefecture) , and Typhoon No. 15 brought more than 1,000 millimeters of rain to parts of the Kyushu and Shikoku regions (including 1,128 millimeters was recorded at Misatocho in Miyazaki Prefecture) . [Source: Masaru Kawanishi and Takashi Ito, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 5, 2011]

Typhoons in 2011 Slowed Over Land by Low Pressure Systems

While the strength of a typhoon mainly depends on the sea for energy, its speed is determined by various factors, such air pressure systems, wind, and other typhoons. Around September, a high pressure system is normally seen above the sea east of the country that blows wind clockwise. Unable to enter the high pressure system, a typhoon is forced northward along the system's edge. The typhoon then usually feeds on westerly winds, which drive it northeast at a speed of 50 kph to 60 kph.

When Typhoon No. 12 and No. 15 approached Japan, however, the western edge of the high pressure system was covering a part of Japan, which prevented the typhoons from heading northward. As the westerly winds were further north than they are in a normal year, the typhoons remained above the sea in the south. Meanwhile, warm and humid air around the typhoons kept blowing into areas near Japan. Because typhoons rotate counterclockwise, wind on the east side of the typhoon blew northward, or toward the mainland.

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Typhoon tracks in 2011

As this wind hit the Kii Mountain Range and the south slopes of the central mountains, the ascending air current created wide rain clouds. As a result, rain started falling even before the typhoons arrived. Typhoon No. 12, which was blocked by a high pressure system from the Chinese mainland, moved at an average speed of about 12 kph, the same speed as a bicycle. At times it slowed to 5 kph or walking speed.

When Typhoon No. 15 was centered over the sea off Okinawa Prefecture, it was easier for warm, humid air to enter into the autumn rain front above the Tohoku region. As a result, rain also fell in the region before the typhoon landed there. At 42 locations between Okinawa and Miyagi prefectures, the total amount of rainfall recorded during that time was more than double that of September in a normal year.

Typhoon No. 6, meanwhile, made a sharp turn near the south coast of western Japan and headed southeast. Just like a car that slows down when making a sharp turn, a typhoon slows down when it changes its course, resulting in longer bouts of rain.

Rain from Typhoon No. 12 in 2011 Kills at Least 25 and Maroons Thousands in Japan

Japan was hit by a devastating typhoon---known both as Typhoon Talas and Typhoon No. 12--- in September 2011 that struck the Kii peninsula in Wakayama and Nara Prefectures, east of Osaka, particularly hard. Four days after the disaster 42 people were confirmed dead and 56 were missing. The typhoon packed winds of 144 kilometers per hour when it made landfall in Shikoku. Some places received more than 1.8 meters of rain. Massive landslides that sent entire mountain slopes crashing into narrow river valleys below. In Nachikatsuurachom two thirds of a 39-meter-long iron bridge over the Nachigawa river collapsed and two women died after they were swept away by the same river. It was the country’s worst storm since one in 2004 that left 98 people either dead or missing.

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Tokushima during Typhoon on Sept 21 2011

AP reported: “Typhoon Talas dumped record amounts of rain in western and central Japan on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and stranding thousands as it turned towns into lakes, washed away cars and set off mudslides that buried or destroyed houses. At least 50 people were missing, the Japanese news media reported. The typhoon dumped record amounts of rain in some areas, and more was expected. Evacuation orders and advisories were issued to 460,000 people in the region, which is hundreds of miles from the country’s tsunami-ravaged northeastern coast. At least 3,600 people were stranded by flooded rivers, landslides and collapsed bridges, which were hampering rescue efforts, the Kyodo News agency reported. The public broadcaster NHK showed a bridge that was swept away after intense rain caused a river to swell into a brown torrent. People holding umbrellas waded through knee-deep water in city streets and residential areas. [Source: Associated Press, September 4, 2011]

One landslide there buried three homes; a woman was killed and four people were missing, but a 14-year-old girl was rescued from the debris. In nearby Nara Prefecture, seven people were reported missing after their homes were swept down a river, NHK said. A 73-year-old man died in Nara when his house collapsed in a landslide, the police said.

One person died and seven were missing in Totsukawamura, Nara Prefecture, due to flooding of the dammed-up Kumanogawa river. A 50-year-old man living near the site told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "This area was supposed to be safe and free from river flooding. The water changed into a roaring river, brown from the typhoon."

The storm also damaged Nijo Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kyoto, tearing a large piece of plaster from the gate wall. It also badly damaged the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Huge landslides occurred within the site on ancient roads known as Kumano Kodo, and there was also damage to the Kumano Sanzan shrines. It may take several years to restore the areas to their original state. According to the Wakayama Prefecture Board of Education, nearly 100 meters of the Kumano Kodo collapsed about one kilometer east of Mikoshi Pass in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture.

The center of Talas crossed the southern island of Shikoku and the central part of the main island of Honshu overnight. It moved slowly north across the Sea of Japan off the country’s western coast, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Because of the storm’s slow speed, heavy rains and strong winds hits some places particularly hard. With the ground already soaked, there were fears of additional mudslides even after the typhoon had passed.

It took some time to repair roads. Mud in the river water contaminated water supplies for several towns. Landslides dammed off rivers, causing huge builds up water behind them. There were worries that another storm or more heavy rain could cause the dams to collapse, sending tsunami-like flash floods down the river.

Record rainfall was recorded as Typhoon No. 12 brought more than 2,000 millimeters of torrential rain to the Kii Peninsula (2,439 millimeters was recorded at Kamikatayamamura in Nara Prefecture).

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Nagoya after Typhoon on Sept 21 2011

Survivors and Victims of Typhoon No. 12 in 2011

Three people have died and nine are missing in Totsukawamura, which has been cut off by landslides and collapsed bridges. The telephone lines are also down. According to Tetsufumi Nakamoto, a 46-year-old teacher who contacted Totsukawa High School via e-mail, about 75 students who had stayed in the school's dormitory moved to the school gymnasium Sunday, as the water level of the nearby Kumanogawa river was rising. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 6, 2011]

The school is located in a valley and a bridge to the north had collapsed. As Nakamoto was in Kashiba in the prefecture when the typhoon hit the area, he said he was unable to return to the school. "Neither I nor the students can do anything. I heard there was some food at the school but I'm worried about the students if they have to remain there very long," he said.

Danzo Mori, 82, who lived in the village, was found dead near the Kumanogawa river on Monday by police officers from Gojo Police Station. Mori's wife Katsuko, 79, and their acquaintance Takeo Ichihara, 90, who had taken refuge at Mori's house, are still missing.

About 70 people of 40 households in the Fudono district of Tanabe voluntarily evacuated to Fudono Primary School on Sunday night, following a large landslide that left some people dead or missing. Of them, 20 people of six households were still taking shelter there two days later. At first, there was great confusion at the school as some people whose houses had been destroyed arrived at the school in clothes covered with mud. However, situation ultimately calmed down and the evacuees started cooking meals using items they had brought with them, as gas was available in the school's domestic science classroom. Junichi Taniguchi, the district chief, was angry. "The municipal government didn't issue any evacuation order. We had no idea what to do in the face of such a big disaster," he said. Within 24 hours power was restored and blankets and other supplies were delivered.

Mutsuko Takehara, who lives in the Izeki district of Nachikatsuuracho, said she was waiting to be rescued early Sunday when a large quantity of mud flowed into her house. During her ordeal, she said she munched on sweets and drank rainwater collected in a basin. "Water suddenly poured into the house," she said. "I've lived here for 50 years, but this is the first time I've seen so much rain pour into the house." In the Ichinono district of the same town, firefighters took a 73-year-old man who was receiving dialysis treatment to a hospital at around 8:30 a.m. Monday. They had to use a power shovel to transport him some of the way because a landslide had made a road impassable.

Town Struck by Typhoon 12 in 2011

Atsushi Taketazu wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Tsukawamura, Nara--Yamaten---a community with only six households perched on a hill high---was battered by typhoon No. 12. "I had never seen rainfall as heavy as that. I thought everything would be washed away," said Toshiko Matsuba, 77, who lives in Yamaten with her husband. Matsuba sighed as she cast a glance at driftwood and stones swept away by water and mud. All the houses in the community survived the onslaught, but some of the terraced rice paddies collapsed, and part of the road linking the settlement with other districts subsided. Power and telephone lines were cut. [Source: Atsushi Taketazu, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 2011]

“Neighboring communities helped Yamaten residents build a bridge with a fallen tree to open an emergency road through mountain forests. In mid-September when Typhoon No. 15 was approaching, however, Yamaten's residents evacuated to the homes of relatives and elsewhere, leaving a ghost town behind. When Yuriko Nakaminami, 76, and her husband returned to their home on Sept. 27 for the first time in two weeks, they found a note at the entrance left by a local municipal office employee. The note read: "Are you OK? I'll come back later." As she read the note again and again, Nakaminami said she felt a deep sense of relief at finally being able to return home. While the Nakaminamis were away, a clock that had been mounted on their living room wall 122 years ago--around the time when the area was hit by a major flood in the Kumanogawa river basin-- kept ticking steadily. [Ibid]

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Kyoto after Typhoon on Sept 21 2011

Survivors and Victims of a Landslide from Typhoon No. 12

More than 8,000 were still stranded in Wakayama and Nara Prefectures four days after the heaviest rain even though helicopters had been sent in to rescue marooned people. After being rescued, one person told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "A mud slide came very close to my neighborhood, so I ran as fast as I could up a hill behind my house," said Tadayoshi Nakamoto, a 62-year-old farmer. "We were cut off for two days, and I was worried the whole time."[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 7, 2011]

On victims of a mud slide in a mountainous area about 10 kilometers from central Tanabe, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “At about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Kimio Uchikoshi was woken up by what sounded like boulders rolling outside. In the darkness he struggled in vain to open his bedroom door. Upon hearing the sound of window panes shattering, he and his wife fled barefoot through a window to a nearby field.

The mud slide triggered by the heavy rainfall brought by Typhoon No. 12 destroyed six houses in the district and four people went missing, including members of Uchikoshi's family---his 88-year-old mother, Ayako, and his two sons, Keita, 17, a third-year student at the prefectural Kumano High School, and Yuki, 16, a second-year student at the prefectural Tanabe High School,

After escaping from the mud slide, Uchikoshi desperately called out the names of his three children--his two sons and his 14-year-old daughter, Tomoko, a third-year middle school student. A moment later, he heard a crunching sound made by the collapsing pillars of his house, which was then swallowed up by the large mud slide. Although he anxiously wanted to look for his children, he was distracted by somebody else's voice calling for help. He was also tied up looking for three of his neighbors, who also went missing. About four hours later, his daughter, muddy from top to bottom, was rescued. "All I could say to her was, 'I'm sorry,'" Uchikoshi said. "If I'd noticed the [mud slide] five minutes earlier, I could have helped my whole family escape."

Toshihito Uchikoshi, 18, a childhood friend of Keita Uchikoshi who lives near the site of the mud slide, said he received a phone call from Keita around the time of the disaster. When he pressed the answer button, he heard no sound, then the call was cut off. "I think he wanted me to call rescue personnel, but I couldn't do anything," said Toshihito.

Landslides from Typhoon No. 12

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Nagoya after Typhoon on Sept 21 2011
Typhoon No. 12 brought record rainfall to the Kii Peninsula, where fragile bedrock allowed massive amounts of rainwater to permeate underground. This has sparked concerns that more deep-seated landslides could occur in the region.

Large mud slides in Wakayama and Nara prefectures resulting from Typhoon No. 12 are suspected of being deep-seated landslides, according to a specialist. Unlike shallow landslides in which topsoil 0.5 meters to 2 meters deep comes loose, the bedrock beneath the topsoil also moves in deep-seated landslides, causing enormous damage.

Kyoji Sassa, a professor emeritus of Kyoto University, analyzed news photos following maTyphoon No. 12 of a mud slide in the Fudono district of Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, and suspects it is a deep-seated landslide. He also believes a mountain collapse in Gojo, Nara Prefecture, could be a deep-seated landslide.

Asahiko Taira, a geologist and executive director of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, said the Kii Peninsula is formed with Shimanto-tai strata, which are highly prone to landslides.The strata began forming 20 million to 100 million years ago by colliding tectonic plates. In a process of repeated collisions and transformations, land mass was pushed upward and cracks dozens of meters deep were formed, which is where rainwater can accumulate.

"The deep-seated landslides were caused as rainwater infiltrated deep cracks over long periods of time," Sassa said. "Similar large-scale collapses may occur when [the strata] absorb large quantities of water."

Sassa has warned the peninsula will frequently be hit with similar landslides in the future due to its geological features. According to a map of areas that could be hit by deep-seated landslides drawn up by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry in August 2010 about 34 percent of the land in Nara Prefecture is at particularly high risk. The map also indicates the remaining areas of the prefecture and neighboring Wakayama Prefecture are also at high risk of deep-seated landslides.

The region’s geology also fueled flooding in the rivers. Kazuya Inoue, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University who specializes in river engineering, told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "The area along the Kumanogawa river used to be one of the nation's major lumber regions...Due to the decline in the forestry business, however, the area fell into ruin, and the absorption capacity of trees and soil deteriorated. This likely resulted in a massive discharge of water [from mountains]."

Typhoon No. 15


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Toyota City after Typhoon on Sept 21 2011 In late September 2011, typhoon No. 15 (also known as Typhoon Roke) swept through the Japanese archipelago, causing massive damage in wide areas of western, eastern and northern Japan before heading out to sea east of Hokkaido. The storm left 15 people dead or missing, injured dozens of others and caused millions of dollars in damage. Among the dead and missing were people buried in landslides and washed away by swollen rivers and high waves. People in isolated villages were cut off and stranded by mudslides and had food and water delivered by helicopters. Water was pumped out of a nuclear power plant in Miagi Prefecture. The Japan Meteorological Agency had called for ''the greatest possible vigilance.''

Japan Kyodo reported: “Typhoon Roke landed near Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, at around 2 p.m., bringing strong winds and heavy rain to vast areas of western to northern Japan. As of 3 p.m., it was heading toward the Tohoku region in northern Japan, moving northeast near the city of Kakegawa at a speed of 45 kilometers per hour and packing winds of up to 216 kph.

Around 7,800 people from 3,700 households across the country were instructed to evacuate as of 11 a.m., while 1.21 million people from 512,000 households were urged to evacuate. The typhoon has caused the cancellation of more than 300 domestic flights and the suspension of Tokaido bullet train services between Tokyo and Osaka, and Yamagata Shinkansen services between Shinjo and Fukushima stations in northeastern Japan, according to airlines and East Japan Railway Co.

Commuters were stranded as landslides. Large areas were flooded. Workers piled up sandbags to repair and reinforce river embankments in Nagoya, where the Shonaigawa river and branching Nagatogawa river flooded due to heavy rains Tuesday. Several sections of expressways, including the Hokuriku Expressway were closed. Toyota and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries decided to suspend operations of their plants in Aichi Prefecture to ensure the safety of their employees.

The typhoon also increased water levels at landslide dams that were formed in Nara and Wakayama prefectures after Typhoon No. 12 hit the regions earlier this month. Water began overflowing at some of them, but no really bad damage occurred. The storm also battered areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Some disaster victims had to return to evacuation shelters as their temporary housing units were flooded due to torrential rain. See Tsunami Survivors

The Nagoya municipal government called for the early evacuation of residents in threatened areas. It advised or instructed 1.1 million residents to evacuate on Tuesday, a day before the typhoon hit Nagoya. However, the city does not have facilities to accommodate 1.1 million people. Even though only 4,600 people moved to evacuation shelters this time, the city's decision should not be called an overreaction. Other municipalities should do their best to secure evacuation shelters and guide their residents appropriately to safe places.

Typhoon No. 15 brought more than 1,000 millimeters of rain to parts of the Kyushu and Shikoku regions (including 1,128 millimeters was recorded at Misatocho in Miyazaki Prefecture) .

Typhoon No. 15 Strikes Tokyo

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Primer Minister Noda surveying
damage from early September typhoon
People in the Tokyo metropolitan area felt the full brunt of the typhoon for the first time in many years. On Wednesday afternoon, when the typhoon came closest to Tokyo, the wind registered a maximum velocity of 129.6 kph. Many railways suspended services and major stations were packed with people trying to get home. People formed long lines at bus stops in front of railway stations, while others decided to stay at hotels near their offices or make the long trek home. The situation probably reminded many people of the huge number of commuters who could not get home when the March 11 earthquake disrupted public transportation systems. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 24, 2011]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Heavy rain and blustering wind halted operations on most train lines in Tokyo, throwing terminal stations into a state of total confusion that resembled the chaotic scenes that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. The wind speed in central Tokyo peaked at 130 kph at about 6 p.m., according to the Meteorological Agency. At Haneda Airport, the wind speed reached 144 kph at 5:54 p.m., the highest on record. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 23, 2011]

Shinjuku and other terminal stations were packed with people trying to make their way home. Long lines of commuters formed at a bus terminal in front of JR Shibuya Station. According to JR East's Tokyo branch, nine railway lines, including the Yamanote and Keihin Tohoku lines, were temporarily shut down, affecting about 1.03 million passengers. According to Tokyo Metro Co., the suspension of subway train services affected about 880,000 people. At JR Tokyo Station, all train operations were temporarily suspended, including Shinkansen services. About 430 flights were canceled at Haneda. "I wanted to get back to my home today, but there's little chance I'll be able to. I can't stay at a hotel, because there aren't any vacancies. I don't know what to do," said Shiro Iwai, 74, a company president from Nagoya.

At a taxi rank outside the station, more than 300 people stood in line, but the wait was long--sometimes as long as 20 minutes passed without a vacant taxi arriving. "I've been waiting here for more than two hours to go to a hotel," said Takashi Imai, 42, a company employee from Hiroshima. He was unable to return home because Shinkansen and airline services were suspended.

In Shinjuku, train station platforms became extremely crowded after trains stopped running on the Odakyu Line, Keio Line and JR lines. Staff limited the number of passengers allowed onto the platforms. "On the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I waited at Shinjuku Station for the trains to start moving until late at night. I didn't expect this kind of thing to happen again. This has been a terrible year," Motoki Sato, 50, a company employee from Inagi, Tokyo, said.

Strong winds caused many accidents in Tokyo. In the usually busy Dogenzaka district in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, a tree by the roadside was blown over and fell onto a taxi Wednesday evening. "I was waiting for the traffic lights to change and heard a massive crash. I looked over my shoulder and saw a big tree had fallen onto the trunk," said the 42-year-old driver of the taxi. Tetsuro Morimoto, 37, owner of a nearby drugstore, said: "I heard a sudden sound that was like thunder. When I looked [outside], I saw [the tree] had fallen over and was blocking the road."

At about 5:20 p.m., police received a call from a person on the 273-meter-long Tatsumi-Sakurabashi bridge that spans the Tatsumi canal in Koto Ward, Tokyo. "We can't move because the wind is so strong," the caller said. According to the Metropolitan Police Department's Tokyo Wangan Police Station, 10 men and women were stranded on the bridge. About 30 minutes after the call was placed, policemen arrived and helped them cross the bridge safely. Two trucks overturned on the Rainbow Bridge in the Odaiba district of Tokyo at about 6 p.m. due to the strong wind.

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Primer Minister Noda surveying damage from early September typhoon

Boy Killed as Tornadoes, Storms Ravage Tokyo Area in May 2012

In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A middle school student died and at least 52 other people were injured in the Kanto region (Tokyo area) when thunderstorms and tornadoes hit the region, according to local governments and police. Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, and Mooka, Tochigi Prefecture, were among the municipalities hit hardest by windstorms that occurred before 1 p.m. More than 890 buildings were damaged in the Kanto region, while power supply remained cut off for about 2,600 households in the two prefectures as of 1 p.m.. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2012]

“The Japan Meteorological Agency said it suspects the intensity of tornadoes that hit areas around the two municipalities was F2, the third-lowest level on the six-level Fujita-Pearson Tornado Scale. Keisuke Suzuki, 14, was confirmed dead after being discovered under his collapsed house in Tsukuba, according to police. A third-year student at Tsukuba-Higashi Middle School, Suzuki lived in the Hojo district, which suffered the most serious damage in the city. Signs of a strong windstorm were spotted over a stretch of nine kilometers, including the Hojo district. [Ibid]

“According to the Ibaraki prefectural government and other sources, a total of 440 buildings were damaged in the prefecture. The disaster caused blackouts for 21,700 households at about 2 p.m., with 2,510 still suffering from power outage as of 1 p.m.. The water supply for 5,200 households in Tsukuba was also cut off. In Tochigi Prefecture, 11 people were injured in Mooka, Mashiko and Motegi--all of which are located in the southeast region bordering Ibaraki Prefecture--while 451 buildings were damaged, mainly having their roof tiles blown off. The disaster caused a blackout for about 7,900 households in the three cities and two other municipalities. Of those, 70 were still suffering from power outages in Mooka as of 1 p.m.. [Ibid]

In June 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The Japan Meteorological Agency has said the tornado that hit Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, last month was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan. The agency said it had upgraded the rating of the twister on May 6 to F3 from the previous F2 on an international six-level scale from F0 to F5.It was the fourth F3 tornado in Japan, according to the agency. A twister of that level killed nine people in the town of Saroma, Hokkaido Prefecture, in November 2006. An F3 tornado is said to be capable of lifting a vehicle. The agency assigned the rating to the Tsukuba twister because it blew away a house together with its base. In some places, the twister had the estimated power of an F4, officials said. [Source: Jiji Press, June 10, 2012]

“The intensity of tornadoes is rated by the internationally adapted Fujita-Pearson Tornado Scale, or F-Scale. The six-level scale ranges from F0 tornadoes of 61 kph to 115 kph to F5 tornadoes of 421 kph to 511 kph. Prof. Fumiaki Kobayashi of the National Defense Academy of Japan's Earth and Ocean Sciences Department told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "In general, the tornado can be categorized as an F2 twister with winds of more than 50 meters per second [180 kph]. But in places, winds may have been as powerful as an F3 [252 to 331 kph].” [Ibid]

Eyewitness Accounts from the May 2012 Kanto Tornadoes

The May 2012 tornado occurred on the final day of the Golden Week holiday period. It ripped houses off their foundations, tore roofs off buildings, toppled utility poles and turned automobiles upside down and wreaked havoc over a stretch of nine kilometers, beginning near the city's Yoshinuma district. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2012]

“According to Tadashi Utsuno, 68, president of Utsuno Ryokka Doboku, a horticultural firm, it started raining suddenly around noon and the unusually large raindrops prompted him to tell his workers to go inside the building. He then saw the tornado approaching about 300 meters from the southwest. He watched a gust of wind lift a steel prefabricated shed into the air with loud noise. As the tornado approached, Utsuno said he could not see anything in the swirling dust. [Ibid]

“Utsuno said he was almost blown out of the forklift he was operating at the time and clung desperately to the steering wheel. Drums, hurled into the air, rained down on him, hitting his shoulders and back.Shortly afterward, he saw his office's roof ripped off by the wind and crash to the ground after it was hurled into power lines about 300 meters away. "Things happened so fast. I thought I would die," Utsuno said. [Ibid]

“In the Hojo district, which suffered more damage than other areas, the tornado ripped houses off their foundations and an entire warehouse was blown away. Parked vehicles were turned over. A woman living in a five-story housing complex in the Hojo district said, "[The wind] whirling near the building sounded like a jetliner." A 38-year-old man living on the second floor of the housing complex said he returned home at about 1:20 p.m. after the tornado had passed through the area and found the door to his apartment open, even though it had been locked. The living room windows were broken, and he thought the wind had smashed the door open from inside the apartment. [Ibid]

Temperature Differences Spawned Deadly Tornado

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The deadly tornado that hit a residential area in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, is believed to have been triggered by a temperature difference of more than 40 C between a high-altitude cold air mass and warm moist air near the ground, which developed a cumulonimbus cloud and a rotating ascending air current. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2012]

“Japan Meteorological Agency radars detected a cumulonimbus cloud 10 to 20 kilometers in diameter, suggesting that a so-called supercell thundercloud developed around the time of the incident. Supercell clouds, cumulonimbus clouds several times bigger than usual, tend to trigger powerful tornadoes. According to the agency, a cold air mass with temperatures lower than minus 21 C moved over Japan at an altitude of about 5,500 meters, while warm humid air moved from the south toward a low-pressure area over the Sea of Japan. At about 1 p.m., when the tornado hit Tsukuba, the surface temperature of the city was 25.6 C, higher than the average high of 21.3 C in the area. [Ibid]

“Since about a month ago, an upper polar front jet stream has been meandering around the Japanese archipelago. As a result, unstable conditions that invite cold air are repeatedly created every seven to 10 days. The "bomb low pressure" that brought heavy rains and winds in early April also was caused by these unstable conditions. [Ibid]

Tornado-like Wind Kills Three in Southwestern Japan

In November 2011, Kyodo reported: “A Tornado-like strong wind destroyed a house in the town of Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan, killing three people. The wind blew away two men and a woman to a field about 100 meters away from the house, the report quoted local police as saying. The three people were confirmed dead after being taken to a hospital. [Source: Kyodo, November 19, 2011]

Firefighters said the pieces of the collapsed one-story wooden house were found near the field where the three were found and that a car parked nearby was shifted about 10 meters by the windblast. The site is located in a mountainous area in northern Tokunoshima, a remote island, and houses there are scattered in sugarcane fields. The Kagoshima Local Meteorological Observatory said it will investigate into the nature of the windblast, according to the report. Source

Powerful Spring Storm Kills Five in Northern Japan in April 2012

In April 2012, Jiji Press reported: “The powerful storm that wreaked havoc in the eastern and western parts of the nation pummeled the north, raising the death toll to five. The storm, caused by an unusually strong low-pressure system that developed over the Sea of Japan, brought disruptions to public transport, electricity supplies and mobile phone services, mainly in the Tohoku region. [Ibid]

“In Toyama Prefecture, an 81-year-old man died after a barn collapsed due to strong winds, prefectural police said. A 28-year-old nurse from Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, was found dead under a fallen tree near her home around midnight, bringing the reported number of deaths to four. The number of people killed by the storm rose to five after a man who was being treated for his injuries died in a hospital. The 53-year-old man died after being found unconscious in front of his home in tonami, Toyama Prefecture, prefectural government officials said. He was reported to have suffered a fractured skull. Around 400 were injured. [Source: Jiji Press, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 4, 5, 6, 2012]

“A low-pressure system as powerful as a typhoon traveled northeast across the Sea of Japan, causing heavy rains and powerful winds. The Japan Meteorological Agency held an emergency news conference in response to the unusually strong low-pressure system. "It's dangerous to use the roads," senior forecaster Hiroyuki Uchida warned, urging people to stay indoors. All bullet train services on West Japan railway Co.'s Sanyo Shinkansen line between Osaka and Hakata were suspended from 3:15 p.m. Train services were also disrupted in Tokyo and surrounding areas. East Japan railway Co.'s Narita Express connecting Tokyo and Narita Airport was suspended. By 4:30 p.m., Japan Airlines had canceled 288 domestic flights operated by its group, or 35 percent of the group's daily services, and 320 All Nippon Airways flights, or 40 percent. [Ibid]

“Strong winds blew over field nets at an athletics ground run by Toyota Industries Corp. in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, injuring the 48-year-old manager of the company's track and field club. In the city of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, the final game of a national high school baseball tournament was put off to due to the bad weather, the first such postponement in 26 years. There were reports of trucks being overturned by strong winds in a number of places, including Tottori Prefecture. Shortly after 1 p.m., wind with a maximum instantaneous velocity of 41.9 meters was recorded in the city of Wakayama. Maximum instantaneous wind velocities exceeded 30 meters in many places from western to northern Japan. The Kyushu and Shikoku regions saw over 30 millimeters of rainfall in one hour. [Ibid]

“All Nippon Airways canceled 45 domestic flights and Japan Airlines 24 flights. The storm triggered power outages that affected 198,000 households as of 10 a.m. in all six Tohoku prefectures plus Niigata Prefecture, according to Tohoku Electric Power Co. NTT Docomo Inc. said mobile phone services were unavailable in areas across the six Tohoku prefectures and part of Niigata Prefecture from the early hours. Services by KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Mobile Corp. were also disrupted.Tohoku Electric reported glitches with pumps to cool spent fuel pools at its Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture and its Onagawa nuclear power plant in Miyagi Prefecture. The glitches may have resulted from problems caused by the high winds, officials said. [Ibid]

“In Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, the roof of an apartment built for victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami was blown off by the strong winds. None of the tenants was injured. The low-pressure system moved east near the Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido. In the Hokuriku region, the low-pressure system caused winds as strong as about 110 kph, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In the early hours of, winds reached nearly 160 kph in Sado, Niigata Prefecture, and about 150 kph in the town of Oguni, Yamagata Prefecture. [Ibid]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Wiki Commons, AFP, Reuters, Office of Japanese Prime Minister

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated October 2012

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