Tag Archive for weather

5 Things about typhoons in Japan

As yet another typhoon approaches (number 18 for 2014), I thought this information might be timely for many people. I’ll keep it brief, mainly because there isn’t that much to say. For current typhoon information see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/. For current and general weather warnings (including snow and other), see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/warn/. For rainfall and radar maps see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/radnowc/. For news, see http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/.

 

1. There’s nothing to see here

Typhoons are not that dangerous… any more, at least. If you’re super rich and live in a good neighbourhood in a sturdy house, or like most expats, live in a very sturdy apartment or condominium building, there’s nothing to worry about. Basically it’s just a windy, rainy day, and it has no effect on you, whatsoever. However, if you live in a low-lying area, near canals or rivers, in an area with storm-surge barriers near the sea, then you might have something to worry about (think New Orleans). Furthermore, if you live in Taiwan (with dodgy illegal rooftop structures all around you), or other places with flimsy building construction, then you shouldn’t stay too long near the windows or on your balcony and definitely don’t venture out. In countries like China, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others there will be a lot of debris flying about.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach, in 2011. He probably was allowed to return home halfway through the day because of a change of JMA advisory.

 

2. Employers expect you to go to work

That’s right. Even if your home is at risk, and your family too, you’d better have a good reason not to come into work. Fortunately, most companies allow their employees to either stay home or return home when the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) says that their is a “Warning” level for “storms” (or red on the JMA maps, but listed for “storms”). That means that the slow response the JMA has in updating their websites, and the near server crashes they experience from hundreds of thousands of hopeful employees means that when the information finally comes through, many employees could be in the brunt of the typhoon as they are travelling home. In contrast, Taiwan is much, much more organised. When the government announces closures of government offices either the night before or before 7am on the morning of an expected landfall, all businesses follow suit, so no-one is in harms way unnecessarily. I’ve seen news reports in Japan of children at a school sports day being killed by a marque blowing over in the middle of a typhoon. Japanese do tend to deny nature exists. It is a country of engineers and bureaucrats, not humanitarians.

 

3. Japan Meteorological Agency website is a problem to itself

I guess the JMA doesn’t quite understand that itself is a small natural disaster. Their information does not appear useful to non-Japanese people who are in Japan. On their Japanese version of the website, their typhoon probability circle times are in Tokyo time, but the English side it’s in GMT, a fact I didn’t know for the first eight years I lived in the country (I hadn’t heard of “UTC” until recently). I always wondered why there were such discrepancies in the expected arrival times. Furthermore, the language is not descriptive enough to adequately communicate the level of threat you face. They did bring out a new level last year. So there are now (my translation in parenthesis):

  • Grey: No warning or advisory (no danger)
  • Yellow: Advisory (moderate danger)
  • Red: Warning (high danger; risk of injury and damage)
  • Purple: Emergency Warning (extremely high danger; expected loss of life and serious damage to property in some places)

Furthermore, they still use Japanese and Japanese-English terms on their English website that no-one else understands. Here are some that you’ll see with a translation (republished from September 2012 JMA Information blog post):

  • Ku: Ward (like a suburb)
  • Cho / Mura: Town
  • Shi: City (like “Nagoya-shi” is just a city called “Nagoya” in regular English)
  • Hokubu: Northern areas
  • Nambu: Southern areas
  • Tobu: Eastern areas
  • Seibu: Western areas
  • “Storm”: Extremely high danger winds
  • Gale: Very strong wind, but only moderate danger
  • JST: Japan standard time, though the English website quotes everything in UTC (Greenwich Mean Time). Use TimeAndDate.Com Meeting Planner to convert.

That’s right, the word “storm” refers to strength of wind, not the normal English definition of violent weather that includes thunder and lighting.

One more thing on this point, JMA doesn’t give names to typhoons, but they count them. The one that is bearing down on me as I write this is “number 18 of 2014”, as you can see here, http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/141824.html The English version of the website does include the international name of the typhoon. However, all the local news services refer only to the number, not the name.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013. Click on your area of the JMA map on their website, and it’ll take you to information for your specific city or region.

 

4. What is actually dangerous about them in Japan?

Some simple facts. The slower the typhoon moves north, the more energy it has. Also the slower it moves, the more rain will pummel the storm area. The more rain in an area, the greater the risk of run-off overwhelming flood barriers, and the greater the risk of land and mud slides in hilly areas. A slow moving typhoon might track between 8 to 15km/h. A faster moving typhoon might move from about 20 to 25km/h. From about 30km/h it seems they start to loose organisation and fall apart. Also, from eye-balling the JMA satellite imagery, if you can easily and very clearly see a large hole in the centre, the eye, then it’s a seriously strong typhoon (see below). In my experience, the central pressure of typhoons is in the 900-1000hPa range. If it drops quickly, that means it’s getting stronger. I think I have seen typhoons under 900hPa, which is seriously strong and quite dangerous. Wind speeds or gusts over 200km/h is considered strong, but speeds over 300km/h are extremely rare and would make international headlines for weeks to come. The most dangerous or wild part of the typhoon is usually the northern arc, not so much the southern for some strange reason. Rainfall of anything over 150mm (I think in a 24hr period) is expected of almost all typhoons, over 200mm is more normal. However, rainfall in the range of 300 to 400mm is a lot. I think rainfall of 50 to 80mm/hr is a lot and expected in the centre of typhoons.

Typhoon season in Taiwan is typically in July and August. In Japan it is typically in August, but mainly September and October. It’s rare to get one in May, June, or July, but not unheard of. I’ve seen typhoons approach and hit South Korea in August.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

 

5. Blue skies afterwards

Usually after a typhoon all the pollution in the skies have been blown away and you’ll see the most amazing blue skies. Also, it’ll be a hot day, too. I’m not entirely sure why. Typhoons tend to follow the warm or hot ocean currents, but warm air or rather, warm days follow typhoons.

Clear blue skies are usually seen after typhoons have past.
Expect clear blue skies and very warm or hot days after typhoons have past.

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Typhoon Man-yi

NHK can provide updated information about the weather by pressing the d for digital button. It moves the live tv broadcast to the top-right corner, and the digital info layout on the left and across the bottom. Japan now has a three level system which says, from lowest risk to highest: Advisory, Warning, and Emergency Warning. At time of writing, the TV was chiming and putting Japanese language information about evacuations required due to flooding in various districts of Kyoto. Some train services in Nagoya have been closed, and more may be. Despite months ago the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and NHK promising multilingual ticker-tap information, this is not being followed through. Many flights in Nagoya, and presumably Osaka and Tokyo are cancelled.

Typhoons are usually strongest on their north-eastern side, and weaker wind and rain on the south-west. The slower they travel the more dangerous they are, as they spend more time dropping rain in a limited area. The more rain in one area increases the chances of flooding, landslides, and flood barriers and storm surge barriers at rivers and by the sea being washed away causing inundation. Unlike my Taiwan experience, the wind isn’t dangerous, whereas in Taiwan strong winds blow loose roofs off and into the street.

Current information about Tyhpoon Man-Yi can be found at the JMA website: http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/1318.html and check twitter via the #typhoon, #typhoon18, and #typhoonManYi hashtags. Photos relating to disaster can be found at my PhotoShelter portfolio, and previous posts about typhoons.

A photo of NHKs digital information with live tv insert in top-right corner.

A photo of NHKs digital information with live tv insert in top-right corner.

and

JMA ScreenShot

JMA ScreenShot

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POTW 8 April 2013: Cherry blossoms

This POTW was originally drafted for Monday the 8th April, but due to technical difficulties it was delayed.

It’s that time of year when the cherry blossoms (sakura) are… were out. They cherry blossoms are usually out in my area now, and would be for the next week or so, at least until the spring breeze blows their fragile petals from their stems. However, due to unseasonally warm weather in the last month, the cherry blossoms bloomed quite early. Also, due to unseasonal weather, most of Japan suffered from high winds, in some areas, classed as strong as typhoon winds, and perhaps more dangerous due to their sustained force. Usually, company groups, community groups, and families go and enjoy picnicing and partying under the gentle pink blossoms in the day or when lit up at night in what’s called ‘hanami’ (cherry blossom viewing) parties. This is also a feature for new recruits to companies who traditionally start in April, as a way of welcoming in the new department employees. This year, I doubt it was much of an event because it was so early, and because of the typhoon like winds on the weekend, which should have been prime cherry blossom viewing party time. Consequently, the best I could do this year is to post a file photo, from 2006 below, and see the gallery for more cherry blossom photos.


Cherry blossoms / Sakura – Images by Andrew Blyth

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Japan Meteorological Agency & weather information

Information issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is often unclear and gives a false sense of security. The JMA vocabulary is unique (see image far below). Immediately below are some JMA terms with terms that perhaps better explains what should be intended to be communicated. Much of the vocabulary applies to typhoons, extreme storms, and other natural phenomena. I do not take any responsibility for decisions you make (or fail to make), and the choice of vocabulary is intended to be a guide. It is your responsibility to be well informed both before and during natural disasters and from multiple sources.

JMA vocab::  My interpretation

Warning ::  Extreme danger / high possibility of disaster

Advisory ::  Moderate danger

Tobu      ::  Eastern areas

Seibu     ::  Western areas

JST        ::  Japan Standard Time

UTC       ::  Greenwich Mean Time (I don’t know why they don’t use local times)

Storm    ::   Extremely high danger & extremely strong wind

Gale       ::   Very strong wind with moderate danger

Other information: Generally, the slower the typhoon the more dangerous it is, as it’s dropping more rain and longer in one area. Also, slow moving typhoons tend to have stronger winds. Slow is about 25km/h or less. Strong winds are about 250km/h. Storm surge is where the typhoon draws air and sea water up, creating an artificial high tide. If a storm surge coincides with high tide, then coastal storm surge defences (sea walls) may have waves washing over them. Some sea walls may have been made with sand in them (back in the 1950’s they didn’t know otherwise), so water may pour through some walls, which will result in the sea walls collapsing. Of course, modern sea walls with concrete and asphalt water proofing is usually safer. Typhoons are typically just big wind storms, so the main danger for 90% of people is having heavy things blown onto their heads. In Taiwan, the biggest cause of deaths is from storm wave watchers getting washed away. It goes without saying, get some extra food, water, batteries, beer, and a warm and cuddly friend, and enjoy a bit of indoor time. 😉  Usually, the eastern side of a typhoon has the worst weather spread over a wider area, but the western side will have weaker weather and over a smaller area.

Many train services will still be running, even in the highest level of weather danger. Transport services will only stop running if there has been damage to train lines. Exception is the bullet train (shinkansen) services, which run by more pragmatic rules. Schools, sports carnivals, and companies will still expect workers to arrive at work before or after a typhoon, except when the company’s policy says otherwise. Most companies and schools say that if the JMA state that there is a Storm level (extremely strong wind) warning issued, then don’t come in or go home; but these are dependent on when the warning was issued. Your company or school with have guidelines clearly spelt out, in Japanese, and so you need the phone number of a buddy who can tell you if you have to work today or not.

Information: See the Japan Meteorological Agency website for up to date information, NHK TV, social network sites, and hashtags on Twitter.

Screenshot of JMA website of Typhoon Jelawat information

Screenshot of JMA website of Typhoon Jelawat information

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Heavy rain alert

There is a heavy rain alert issued by the Japanese Bureau of Meteorology. Already, urban area flooding has occurred, landslides in Gifu and in the south west of Japan. So far, two people are missing in landslide areas in the south. There is a risk of flood barriers collapsing, and threats of inundation. Many residents in low lying areas have been told to be prepared to evacuate at short notice. Some community shelters have already taken in elderly residents, and others who have difficulties moving. My area does have the threat of the local canals (pictured below) over flowing, and fire engines can sometimes be heard with sirens on going around my neighbourhood. Currently, the issued warnings say thunderstorms and dense fog. The full collection of photos in the Disaster gallery.

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Storm warning in Japan

I was really surprised, perhaps along with about 100 million other residents in Japan, to hear the opening news story at 7pm that a typhoon-like storm is threatening Japan tomorrow (3rd April). That kind of storm that the Japan Meteorological Agency is worried about is reserved only for summer and for actual typhoons; but it’s the end of winter and early spring? We were told that there would be unpredictable consequences and possible erratic weather as a result of unbalancing the climate. I’d like to hear what logic climate skeptics might attempt to use to explain this!

The current storm warning in Japan as at 22.54, 02 April 2012

The current storm warning in Japan as at 22.54, 02 April 2012

Left, the storm warning map showing current warnings several hours ahead of the expected storm. Below, boats moored in a marina behind storm surge walls for Typhoon Talas in 2011.

Edit: Updated map, 3rd April, 2012, from the Japan Meteorological Agency website, at 6pm. For related news see the Bloomberg website, and the NHK website.

Storm warnings in Japan as at 3April 2012 15.50

Storm warnings in Japan as at 3April 2012 15.50

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Heavy snow

Some parts of Japan have received heavy and accumulating snow. Last week many areas in the north received snow, followed by a slight warming, which has allowed the top layer to melt slightly before freezing again. On top of this icy layer, known in Japan as corn snow (due to it’s micro scopic shape), fresh snow created yet another layer. Concern is for a number of points.

  • The corn-snow layer allows for surface avalanches
  • Avalanches and surface avalanches can be triggered by earthquakes
  • Snow sliding off roofs can kill people under them. A meter of snow can weigh upto 500kg (1/2 ton).
  • Snow clearing with snow ploughs have killed pedestrians
  • Snow clearing off roofs have accounted for about 75% of deaths. Most deaths involve people aged 60 and over. Most deaths are as a result of falls, heart attacks, or falls with snow burials.
  • Solar panels on roofs have also contributed, as normal roofs have stoppers that hold snow in place, or slow the rate of fall. However, solar panels were not designed with this consideration, and often sit above snow stoppers, thus with the smooth surface are more dangerous than a regular roof (see the picture below).
  • Finally, some houses this week have collapsed under the weight of snow on their roofs. So far, some areas have more than 3 meters of accumulated snow.

Below are file pictures relating to the extreme weather.

 

Solar panels allow snow to dangerously slide off roofs, which has caused the deaths of many people.

Solar panels allow snow to dangerously slide off roofs, which has caused the deaths of many people.

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Typhoon Roke is here

Typhoon Roke has finally made it here. It will pass directly over Nagoya and then Tokyo. The wind doesn’t seem as strong as the previous typhoon, Talas. Rain associated with Roke has caused flooding in Nagoya where authorities issued evacuation orders for 1 million of the 2 million residents of Nagoya. It sounds desperate, but it is not. Most of the residents Nagoya live in multi-story condominium buildings or multi-story apartments. Only householders near the Shonai River are indeed flooded. Affected areas are mainly Moriyama and Tempaku. NHK, the national broadcaster, showed pictures of city residents taking refuge in emergency shelters last night, ahead of additional or continued flooding, and ahead of the approach of the typhoon.

Yesterday many workers and students attending their first days of the new semester were stranded at train stations as underground services were flooded, or high risks due to the winds. The stranding of commuters was the probable cause of mobile phone services working only intermittently. Despite learning that stranded passengers in Tokyo was a huge problem after the March-eleven quake, Nagoya seemed unprepared.

Below are photos from Typhoon Talas. I’m not leaving my area until I’m sure that my home and neighbourhood is safe, then I might venture out. My area has a warning of high risk of storm surge causing inundation. My pictures, below, show the storm surge and tsunami protection, however, not all parts of the dyke is as strong and reinforced as those shown.

 
Disasters – Images by Andrew Blyth

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