Asia Life

Record-Breaking Snowstorm in Japan Grinds Transportation to a Halt, Kills 12

Tokyo and surrounding areas saw the heaviest snowfall in 45 years.

Record-Breaking Snowstorm in Japan Grinds Transportation to a Halt, Kills 12
Credit: @TokyoFashion

A second consecutive weekend of heavy snowfall in eastern Japan grounded flights and stopped trains, leaving as many as a dozen people dead and thousands injured. More than a meter of snow fell in some areas, shattering records and crippling the country’s otherwise famously punctual transportation infrastructure. Highway pileups and roof collapses were blamed for many of the weather-related deaths.

Nearly a foot of snow blanketed Tokyo, a bustling metropolis of more than 13 million that rarely sees more than a light dusting in winter, causing a rare commuter train collision and power outages that stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers.

Tokyo, which averages about 4 inches of snow annually, received more than 10 inches on February 8 and 15 – the city’s heaviest snowfall in 45 years. The Japanese capital has a climate similar to the southeastern U.S., a region that also experienced deadly, uncommon snow and ice storms this month. Eleven were killed in last week’s storm.

“You have to have the perfect combination of a potent offshore low pressure system passing just south and southeast of the city, and a very cold air mass in place over the city itself. This storm had those necessary ingredients, and the snow naturally followed,” Nick Wiltgen, a meteorologist, told Wunderground. “And much like winter storms in the southeastern U.S., warmer weather has quickly returned and the snow is already rapidly melting in the Tokyo area.”

Approximately 4,500 people were forced to spend Friday night at Tokyo’s Haneda air terminal after hundreds of flights were canceled. Another 5,000 travelers were also stranded at Narita International Airport in neighboring Chiba prefecture.

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Japan Railways said that 160,000 shinkansen (bullet train) passengers were delayed for up to an hour. The Takasaki Line that connects Saitama and Gunma Prefectures was stopped by a fallen overhead power line that melted one of the train’s windows. The busy Chuo line (Rapid), which runs between Tokyo and Nagoya, also lost power – station staff could be seen digging away at the rapidly-accumulating snow with their hands.

Worse than simply being stranded, 19 passengers on the Tokyu line connecting Tokyo to Yokohama were hurt when the train’s brakes failed to function properly in the deep snow. It slid into a stopped train at Motosumiyoshi Station in Kawasaki after skidding more than 30 meters, causing two cars to derail.

NHK, the national broadcaster, added that nearly 500 people were injured in 3,200 vehicular accidents across the country.

“Cities that rewrote their snowfall records included Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, which was bombarded by 114 cm, Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, which got 73 cm, Iida, Nagano Prefecture, with 81 cm, Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture with 62 cm, Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, with 42 cm, and Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, which saw 32 cm,” reported The Japan Times.

TEPCO, the utility that serves Tokyo and the surrounding region, said that 246,000 households were left without electricity on Saturday, with all but 18,000 restored on Sunday.

Some took the rare opportunity to create elaborate snowmen, with photos flooding Twitter. In Tokyo’s popular Shibuya district, a life-sized replica of the “Hachiko” dog statue was built next to the original.

Weather forecasters are warning of blizzards and avalanches in Hokkaido as the storm system moves north.