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Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan with intense rainfall and winds

Torrential rain and tornado-like winds are lashing out at mainland Japan. It’s probably the strongest storm to hit Japan in 60 years.

Typhoon Hagibis is currently the strongest storm on Earth, and will quite possibly be the strongest of the year. It made landfall on Saturday on Japan’s East coast, striking with consistent winds at about 100 miles (160 km) per hour and gusts of up to 135 mph (217 km/h).

Authorities have urged more than 7 million people in Japan to leave their homes as Hagibis nears Tokyo. Almost 1 million have received direct evacuation orders — a sign that authorities have learned from previous events and are taking the storm very seriously. However, only 50,000 people took the official advice to evacuate to shelters, according to the AFP news agency.

Hagibis has already caused power outages. Train services have been halted and over 1,000 flights have been stopped. At least two people have been killed by the storm, due to the high winds — but this figure will almost certainly increase as the storm continues to unfold. An additional 60 people have been reported injured, many of them children, but this number is also expected to grow.

Hagibis also poses great flooding and landslide risks. Over 100 rivers at risk of overflowing as massive rains hit areas including Tokyo, Saitama, and Chiba. Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA) has warned half a metre of rain could fall on Tokyo in 24 hours.

“Unprecedented heavy rain has been seen in cities, towns and villages for which the emergency warning was issued,” JMA forecaster Yasushi Kajiwara told a press briefing.

“The possibility is extremely high that disasters such as landslides and floods have already occurred. It is important to take action that can help save your lives.”

Residents who fled their homes have gathered in evacuation centers to escape the scourge of the storm. Others have stockpiled food, leaving supermarkets with empty shelves (most supermarkets are currently closed). However, in many areas, the storm is already ripping the roofs of houses.

This could very well be the strongest storm the country has faced since the infamous Kanogawa Typhoon in 1958, which left more than 1,200 people dead or missing.

Hagibis Typhoon is the equivalent of a level 5 hurricane. The difference between ‘typhoon’ and ‘hurricane’ is just geographical — they pretty much mean the same thing. Hurricanes are tropical storms that form in the North Atlantic, northeastern Pacific, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, while typhoons are storms that develop in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes are generally categorized from 1 to 5 based on their wind speed, whereas typhoons are classified as “typhoon,” “very strong typhoon” or “violent typhoon” by the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Japan braces for steep rain and wind due to Hagibis

Threatening to disrupt activity with the heaviest rain and winds in 60 years, the Hagibis Typhoon is approaching Japan, due to make landfall on the main island of Honshu on Saturday – a month after one of the strongest typhoons to hit Japan in recent years destroyed or damaged 30,000 houses.

A news broadcast in Japan warning over Hagibis

The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, ordered his cabinet ministers to do their utmost to secure people’s safety. The storm could be the strongest to hit Tokyo since 1958. People should also prepare for high waves and storm surges, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

East Japan Railway announced that it will suspend many trains runs Saturday, while Central Japan Railway said it will cancel all shinkansen services between Tokyo and Nagoya and West Japan Railway plans suspensions between Shin-Osaka and Okayama stations.

Supermarkets are going the extra mile on safety precautions. Major chain Ito Yokado said it will close 124 outlets in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Gifu, Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures throughout Saturday. Department store Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings announced the same day that its Shinjuku, Ginza, and Ebisu stores in Tokyo will close on Saturday as well.

Theme parks are no exception either. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea will close on Saturday for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011, operator Oriental Land said. Universal Studios Japan said its Osaka facility will do the same.

Shigeo Kannaka, a director of Japan Bosai (Disaster Prevention) Society, urged caution. Asked what measures households can take to prepare for such contingencies, Kannaka recommended filling bathtubs, kettles, and buckets with water that can later be used to flush toilets and fulfill other domestic purposes.

Flashlights, lanterns and portable radios will also come in handy in the event of a power failure, he said. Other safety precautions include taping windows in all directions to prevent them from fragmenting when they break, stocking up on enough potable water for three days, and topping up the gas tanks of cars and other vehicles.

“To protect your own and your loved ones’ lives, please evacuate swiftly before winds and rain become strong and it grows dark and ensures your safety if evacuation advisories are issued by local bodies,” Yasushi Kajihara, director of the Forecast Division, told a news conference.

Hagibis storm intensifies and becomes strongest on Earth

Currently the strongest storm on the planet and on its way to possibly becoming the strongest of the year, Super Typhoon Hagibis has already gathered strength with astonishing speed. Winds surged at over 144 km/h (90 mph), and it took just 18 hours for Hagibis to reach super typhoon status.

The U.S. National Weather Service issued a typhoon warning for the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Alamagan and Pagan in the Northern Marianas, with the worst impacts from the storm expected soon in the region. A tropical storm warning was also in effect for the islands of Agrihan, Rota, and Guam.

Hagibis is set to bring strong winds and torrential rainfall to the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory in the North Pacific. Flash flooding and high surf are also likely in Guam as the center of the storm moves towards the north. From there, models diverge somewhat on the eventual path of the storm, but the official track takes it on a path close to Japan’s northern islands.

This means Hagibis could also affect the Rugby World Cup, currently held in Japan. The World Rugby Federation has said they are monitoring the situation in the hope Hagibis does not prove to be a danger to World Cup fixtures and training sessions. A World Rugby spokesperson said:

“We are currently monitoring the development of a typhoon off the south coast of Japan in partnership with our weather information experts. It is still too early to determine what, if any, impact there will be on match or training activities.”

Hagibis’ tiny circulation took advantage of plentiful warm ocean water, low wind shear and winds aloft that were spreading apart from its core — tropical cyclones with small inner cores of convection are notorious for rapidly developing and weakening much faster than expected.

Hagibis became the fourth Category 5 tropical cyclone on Earth in 2019, according to Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University — following Super Typhoon Wutip in February, Dorian in early September and Lorenzo in late September.

“This is the most intensification by a tropical cyclone in the western North Pacific in 18 hours since Yates in 1996,” Klotzbach said.

Hagibis joined an impressive list of Atlantic hurricanes that rapidly intensified since 2017, including Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, Michael, and Lorenzo. Rapid intensification is a tropical cyclone is defined as an increase in wind speed of at least 35 mph in 24 hours — it’s very unusual for a storm to develop so quickly, but the process seems to become more common in recent years. The most likely culprit for this is climate change.

Extreme hurricane intensification such as what we just witnessed with Hagibis could further increase in the future from climate change, according to recent research from Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane scientist working at MIT.

“Rates of intensification increase more rapidly than intensity itself as the climate warms, so that rapidly intensifying storms like Michael may be expected to become more common,” said Emanuel.