Japan’s storm of the decade: Typhoon Wipha lashing Tokyo, Fukushima

Typhoon Wipha is barreling up the east coast of Japan, spreading torrential rains and the likelihood of damaging winds.


Typhoon Wipha (NOAA)

The storm’s maximum sustained winds are currently around 85 mph and gusts that high could impact Tokyo as the center moves very close to the city of 35 million people early Wednesday morning (local time, or this evening EDT).

At 4 a.m. local time, the wind was sustained at 40 mph, gusting to 52 mph at Tokyo International Airport with heavy rain and visibility less than 1 mile.

While the storm is weakening as it transitions from a tropical to mid-latitude storm, its field of strong winds is expanding as it combines with a cold front intersecting its path.  Winds of over 58 mph extend about 130 miles west of its center.


Areas at greatest risk of flooding rain and damaging winds (AccuWeather.com)

The threat of tree damage and power outages is elevated due to leaves still on trees notes Wunderground’s Jeff Masters.

The Japan Meteorological Agency is classifying the storm as a “once in a decade” event writes the Japan Daily Press.  It is the strongest storm to impact the region since Typhoon Tokage in October, 2004.

Heavy rain, sometimes falling at a rate of 1 inch per hour or greater, has already progressed into Japan’s northern reaches.

Link: Radar from Japan Meteorological Agency

Widespread rainfall totals of 4-8 inches are likely throughout Japan, with locally higher amounts.

In Fukushima, there are concerns flooding could complicate clean-up efforts at its nuclear site after recent leakage of radioactive material. Reports ThinkProgress:

Fukushima’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Corporation is already cancelling all offshore work and considering halting onshore work depending on the storm’s path. While Tokyo Electric plans to pump rainwater into holding tanks, check it for radioactivity, and release it only if uncontaminated, the fact that they haven’t been able to contain leaks raises concerns over the further escape of radioactive water.

If there is good news, the center of the storm is likely to remain just offshore Japan’s coast, which means Tokyo and Fukushima should remain west of the push of water (or the storm surge) directed by the storm’s flow on its east side.


Track forecast for Wipha (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

In addition, the center’s closest approach should coincide with low tide, notes meteorologist Eric Holthaus.

 

In short, the risk of a storm surge disaster is decreasing. Still, the inland fetch of water on the storm’s north side will raise the seas some and cause some minor tidal flooding.

As Andrew Freedman as Climate Central notes, typhoons are fairly common in Japan, although they are often transitioning into “hybrid systems” – a cross between tropical and mid-latitude storms – that far north.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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