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Situation Update - Japan

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METEOROLOGISTS WARN OF POTENTIAL DISRUPTION AS SUPER TYPHOON HAGIBIS CONTINUES TRACKING TOWARDS JAPANESE MAINLAND

Super Typhoon

According to the latest bulletin issued by the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center , Super Typhoon Hagibis continues to maintain its strength, 258 nautical miles south-southwest of Iwo Jima, and approximately 1500 miles south of Tokyo. The Japanese Meteorological Agency is reporting current wind speeds at the storm centre of 105 knots (194 km/h), gusting to 150 knots (278 km/h). Over the past six hours, the typhoon has tracked north-northwest at 10 knots (19 km/h), with an expectation this will continue until Friday evening local time.

On Friday, a westerly weather front is forecast to move into the warning area prompting a change in track and accelerating the storm in a northeastwardly direction. Current forecasting and prediction modelling has Super Typhoon Hagibis skirting the Japanese mainland as is shown AccuWeather’s Infographic.

Despite continued and rapid intensification over the past 72 hours, during which Hagibis became a Super Typhoon, the storm is expected to weaken as it nears the Japanese coastline. Forecast analysis predicts the centre of the storm will track slightly west avoiding a direct landfall, however given the size of the system, adverse weather will impact Tokai and Kanto regions as early as Friday evening local time.

There is a possibility the typhoon could make the change in direction slightly later on Friday which would then increase the risk of a landfall over the weekend, although again it should be noted forecasts of this scenario still shown significant weakening. Nevertheless, the JMA has issued a statement today (09 October) warning “it is possible that violent winds, torrential rains, high waves and violent waves will be seen across the nation."

Strong winds are expected to impact coastal regions during Saturday with heavy rain to follow. Wave surges are also possible along Japan’s Pacific coastline throughout the weekend with the potential for flash flooding, although much of this will depend upon the storms track which remains unpredictable at this stage. Despite the weakening, the JMA are still warning of wind speeds in excess of 160 km/h, with Tokyo expected to see the worst of the weather early Saturday morning local time. By this time forecasters are predicting the typhoon will have reduced in strength from its current Category 5 status, down to Category 2 or 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, still a powerful and potentially dangerous storm system.

With two major sporting events being hosted by Japan this weekend, the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Rugby World Cup, and the country gearing up for a national holiday weekend, there is expected to be significant widespread disruption due to Typhoon Hagibis. The level of disruption will be largely dictated by several factors which should become clearer over the next 24-48 hours.

Transportation disruption is extremely susceptible to strong winds and heavy rain and even if the Formula 1 and Rugby World Cup games do go ahead, those people visiting venues will likely be impacted. It still remains possible that the decision is taken to cancel events, particularly if coastal evacuations are recommended.

Suzuka Circuit, venue for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, is situated in Ise Bay, on Japan’s Pacific coast and will be particularly susceptible to any significant flooding. Whilst the main event is scheduled for Sunday, when forecasters say weather conditions are expected to improve, events taking on place Friday and Saturday are likely to be impacted in some way.

The FIA has said it is carefully monitoring the weather situation, and working closely with the circuit organisers, the Japanese Automobile Federation and F1 to see if any action needs to take place and the timetable altered, as was the case in 2004 and 2010 when qualifying was postponed until the Sunday because of a typhoon. As it stands, there are no planned changes to the event schedule and this is confirmed on the main Suzuka Circuit website.

Rugby World Cup games are scheduled to take place in Japan on Friday Saturday and Sunday. All of the games on Friday and Saturday will be hosted in venues situated in Pacific coastal locations with the exception of Ireland v Samoa which takes place later Saturday evening at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka City.

Venues most at risk to be impacted by the storm are as follows:

  • Australia v Georgia on Friday at 19:15 local time in Shizuoka
  • New Zealand v Italy at 13:45 Saturday in Alchi
  • England v France at 17:15 Saturday in Yokohama

Sunday’s games are less likely to be impacted although there is the possibility adverse weather will affect coastal venues.

  • Namibia v Canada at 12:15 local time in Iwate
  • USA v Tonga at 14:45 in Osaka
  • Wales v Uruguay at 17:15 in Kumamoto
  • Japan v Scotland at 19:45 in Yokohama

Current tournament regulations do allow for venue changes or game cancellations due to dangerous weather conditions and reports via social media do seem to indicate moving events to venues less susceptible to adverse weather along the Pacific coastline would be preferable to cancelling games, given the impact this could have on the outcome of the tournament. However it is highly likely these games would be played behind ‘closed doors’.

Any games which are cancelled will be recorded as scoreless draws which could significantly influence the current standings of those countries yet to qualify for the quarter finals. An emergency press conference has been called by World Rugby for Thursday 10 October at midday, thought to coincide with updates delivered by the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC) and the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA).

In terms of advice, the JMA currently has strong winds and high wave advisories in place for a number of eastern coastal prefectures, along with a warning in place for strong winds, high waves, heavy rain and thunderstorms in the eastern Tokyo prefecture area. Although no evacuations have been ordered, officials from Japan's Meteorological Agency (JMA) have urged the public to closely monitor the situation and to “carry out voluntary evacuations at early stages, paying attention to evacuation advisories issued by local municipalities."

The situation is likely to be exacerbated due to Monday being a national holiday across Japan. As a result public transport, roads and airports will be busier than usual which will make any impact on travel more difficult to manage, particularly across southern and central eastern Japan. Temperatures are also expected to be higher than normal during the life of the storm.

Overnight, the Rugby World Cup has confirmed two of the games due to be played on Saturday have been cancelled due to their location and in light of further predictive modelling released this morning.  New Zealand v Italy due to be played at 13:45 Saturday in Alchi, and England v France scheduled in Yokohama on Saturday afternoon, have both been cancelled. Ireland v Samoa and Australia v Georgia are both set to go ahead, as are all other Sunday games. 

The Japanese Grand Prix is still scheduled to go ahead as planned, however a decision regarding qualifying has been delayed until Friday according to the Formula 1 governing body.  The Sendai marathon has also been cancelled due to the storm.

The latest information has the typhoon still classified as Category 5 storm with sustained speeds of 270kmh (168mph). It is currently situated near Chichi island in the Pacific, approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) off Tokyo's southern coast. It was moving north at the speed of 20 km/h (12 mph) and is expected to weaken over cooler waters as it nears Japan's main island.

The Japan Meteorological Agency released an update midday Thursday 10 October stating the typhoon is forecast to impact the Tokyo area late Saturday and the public are being urged to take all necessary precautions. The storm is expected to begin impacting southern Honshu Island, along the central Pacific coast with torrential rain and strong wind beginning Friday local time. Additionally high waves and surge tides may cause flooding in coastal regions.

Forecasters predict some areas could see significant rainfall amounts in a very short space of time, which would likely result in flooding, based on previous analysis of autumn typhoons approaching Japan. Warm, damp air from the southern Pacific region is carried north by the typhoon and collides with colder air moving north to south and this is what meteorologists are saying characterises Typhoon Hagibis.

A very similar set of circumstances occurred with a typhoon in October 2013 which brought in excess of 500 millimetres of rain within a six-hour period which resulted in severe landslides and flooding leaving at least 35 people dead and a number of casualties. Although Typhoon Hagibis is still a significant distance from the Japanese mainland, and its track remains unpredictable, the meteorological characteristics continue to be of concern.

The latest forecasting by the JMA predicts a drop in wind strength over the next 24 hours. Within the next few hours the storm is expected to be downgraded to a violent Category 3, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 105 knots (194 km/h), gusting up to 150 knots (278 km/h). A further reduction is forecast for 06:00 11 October with wind speeds dropping to 100 knots (185 km/h), gusting 140 knots (260 km/h).