About 30 typhoons pass through the Pacific every year. They last up to a dozen or so days, and their effects are painful for the Japanese. They are especially felt in the southern part of the country. Fortunately, residents know when and from where they occur, so they are able to protect themselves against them. Interestingly, they do it very differently than we do in the case of our local hurricanes.

Typhoons in Japan – when they occur?

The term typhoon comes from the Chinese (台风 – Táifēng) and means “wind from Taiwan”. It is the same phenomenon as hurricanes, cyclones or orkans. The names vary depending on the place of occurrence. They are formed in the tropics and bring heavy rains and strong winds, which cause devastating floods and landslides.

  • Typhoons occur in the north-west of the Pacific (including Japan) from May to October. The most intense months are August and September.
  • Hurricane is a popular term for the regions of the Atlantic Ocean (including the East Coast of the USA) and the South-Eastern Pacific Ocean.
  • Cyclones are formed from January to March and occur in the Arabian Sea region and in the south of the Indian Ocean.
  • “Orkan” is the name used in Europe (including Poland). Colloquially, this term also means strong storms.

Where do typhoons come from to Japan?

Typhoons are made of large masses of tropical and low-pressure air. They form when the water temperature exceeds 26.5°C at a depth of at least 50 m. In this way, enough energy is provided for typhoon to be developed. At the moment when clouds gather over the ocean, the water warms up and the air moistens and moves up. Then, a very low pressure zone forms in the centre, in which the whole mass begins to whirl. All this combined with the Coriolis force, related to the Earth’s rotation, causes the formation of typhoon.

Typhoons can reach a height of even several thousand metres and cover an area of several hundred kilometres. However, some of the throughout history had an area of up to 1.4 thousand km. They last from a few to a dozen or so days and move with a speed of up to 50 km/h. The wind reaches a force of 100–300 km/h.

The eye of the cyclone is also formed in the central part of the typhoon, where it is quiet and peaceful, and the sky is cloudless. However, the outer part of the hurricane is an area of total chaos and devastation.

Nature unfathomable to scientists

The issue bothering scientists is the situation in which all conditions for the birth of cyclone are met, but nothing happens and the hurricane is not formed.

In addition, there is a possibility of an extreme version of cyclones, the so-called hypercanes – typhoons of double force. It could be formed if the ocean temperature reached 40°C, which would provide even more energy. The speed of the hypercane wind could reach up to 600–800 km/h, twice as much as in the case of known hurricanes.

Typhoons in Japan – effects

Extreme natural phenomena such as typhoons cause many losses every year. 26 typhoons on average exist annually near Japan, of which about 3 strike the country, excluding the Okinawa Prefecture. Heavy rainfall and strong winds contribute to occurrence of many floods, mudslides and landslides. Many houses are flooded. The infrastructure is destroyed. Tourist traffic declines in the typhoon season. A thousand flights were suspended because of Typhoon Trami (2018). The ferry and railway traffic was also interrupted. Many people are injured by hurricanes, and fatalities occur in worst case scenarios.

Isewan – the most disastrous typhoon in Japan

The post-war Japan for the first time had to deal with a large-scale natural disaster in September 1959. Then the ruthless Typhoon Isewan came over the country, resulting in the death of over 5,000 people. The losses it caused then were estimated at $ 600 million. In addition, when the cataclysm ceased, local epidemics broke out, including dysentery and tetanus. Over 800,000 buildings were destroyed. Agriculture and production plants were also severely affected. Typhoon Isewan, carrying with it storm waves, downpours and wind at speeds up to 305 km/h, tore many power lines and left hundreds of thousands of Japanese without electricity.

This event gave Japan a severe lesson and the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act was established two years after the cataclysm. Citizens and the government began to pay more attention to how houses are built and secured. In many places in the country we can see information boards showing how to give first aid and indicating emergency numbers.

The Typhoon Centre – Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture is the southernmost area of Japan, and therefore the one most exposed to typhoons. In addition, it is also the poorest region of the country, without the subway and railways. The area is excluded from the national average of typhoon occurrence, as there are between 7 and 8 hurricanes annually in Okinawa alone. The average rainfall in the region is 2036 mm. The buildings in the prefecture are rather unattractive, massive and made of concrete, which makes them more resistant to disasters. In addition, the duration of typhoons in Okinawa is quite long. In 1999-2004, they lasted for 179 hours (7.5 days) on average. The record was 276 h (11.5 days) on average in 2000.

This misfortune of Okinawa also affects its inhabitants. They live rather modestly. In the event of an accident, the possessions of local fishermen are bequeathed to their wives – in case they go to sea and do not return. In addition, cyclones occur there so often that residents are informed about them with alerts on the phone. It happens that Okinawa is barely getting on its feet after the last disaster when another one comes shortly afterwards.

Beneficial typhoons in the history of Japan

Although Japanese typhoons are notorious, there is a kind that is remembered fondly. It is the so-called kamikaze (神風 – divine wind). In the Japanese tradition, kamikaze storms saved the country in the 13th century from the Mongol invasion. Whenever the fleet of Mongolia wanted to conquer the Land of the Rising Sun, it was scattered by kamikaze. According to beliefs, Raijin (雷神 – the god of thunder) from shintō sent the storms to the Mongols.

The kamikaze typhoons were so relentless that the name was used during the Second World War. Special Japanese military units were named this way. Kamikaze soldiers piloting planes or boats carried out suicidal attacks on enemies. They sacrificed their own lives to cause as much damage to the enemy as possible.

Travelling to Japan in the typhoon season

In Japan, various types of cataclysms sometimes overlap. However, the experience of the Japanese in this regard allows them to skilfully mitigate the damage. Though disasters used to take thousands of lives, today it is possible to reduce casualties to even a dozen or so. In addition, the warning, evacuation and humanitarian system has been very well developed. It is greatly improved by modern meteorological stations, which are able to very quickly predict the direction of the disaster and its severity.

Thanks to this, when travelling to Japan, many things can be avoided or prevented. However, it should be remembered that nature is surprising and in many cases uncontrollable, so it is a good idea to prepare the so-called plan B – check the alerts and remember that all traffic can suddenly stop and flights may be cancelled.

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