Heavy snow clobbers central, western Japan

JIJI, Kyodo

Two people died and more than 100 were injured Sunday as a cold air mass gripped Japan, with record-breaking heavy snowfall in western and central areas of the country.

With a bitterly cold air mass in place above the Japanese archipelago, heavy snow fell and strong winds blew in Sea of Japan coastal areas from the central to southwestern regions on Sunday, disrupting air and land traffic.

The first snowfall in almost 115 years was recorded on Amami-Oshima island, a subtropical island located some 380 km (235 miles) southwest of the city of Kagoshima, while temperatures fell to record lows in western and southern Japan.

In usually warm Naha in subtropical Okinawa Prefecture, temperatures plummeted to 8.9 degrees Sunday morning, far below January’s average low. The temperature in the town of Kunigami, in the north of the main island, it dropped to a record-low 4.2 degrees Celsius at 6 p.m.

The Meteorological Agency called for vigilance against strong winds and high waves across much of the country as well as heavy snow and snowstorms in the Hokuriku region and in western Japan through Monday.

The bad weather caused delays in high-speed train services on Central Japan Railway Co.’s Tokaido Shinkansen Line, West Japan Railway Co.’s Sanyo Shinkansen Line and Kyushu Railway Co.’s Kyushu Shinkansen Line, as well as cancellations and delays on the Hokuriku, Sanyo, Sanin, Dosan, Nagasaki and Kagoshima lines.

All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines had canceled a total of 286 domestic flights by 5 p.m.

Most sections of expressways in the Kyushu region were closed to traffic. Parts of the Tokushima Expressway and the Matsuyama Expressway in Shikoku, as well as the Hokuriku Expressway, were also closed.

Sleet was observed intermittently at Naze observatory on Amami-Oshima island soon after 1 p.m. As sleet is included in the category of snow, it marked the first snowfall on the island since Feb. 12, 1901.

In the Chugoku region where the snowfall was heaviest, the town of Kita-Hiroshima in Hiroshima Prefecture recorded 142 cm (55 inches) of snow, while Suzu, at the north end of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture saw 59 cm (23 inches) of snow.

Nagasaki had 15 cm (5.9 inches) of snow, Kagoshima 10 cm (3.9 inches) and Saga 6 cm (2.3 inches).

With the cold air mass in place above the archipelago, temperatures hit record lows in many western locations.

The mercury remained below freezing in Fukuoka, Kumamoto and other cities in the Kyushu region throughout the day, while the temperature dropped to minus 9.4 degrees Celsius in the town of Kami, Hyogo Prefecture, and minus 5.8 degrees at Tottori Airport in Tottori. Both were the lowest on record.

In Aomori Prefecture, a woman died after she fell from a roof as she was trying to remove snow, and in Tochigi Prefecture, a man died in a weather-related traffic accident.

Around the country, over 100 people suffered injuries due to weather conditions, with 65 cases recorded in Kyushu as of 5 p.m., according to a Kyodo News tally of reports from local authorities.

Shortly after midnight Saturday, 11 cars and other vehicles were involved in pileups on a road in Fukuoka Prefecture in freezing condition amid snowfall, injuring two men, police said.

Around 6 a.m. Sunday, six teenagers who had climbed 847.5-meter-high Mount Kusembu, which straddles Fukuoka and Saga prefectures, called for help, saying they were unable to descend due to snow. Local firefighters found them near the peak of the mountain and rescued them about 90 minutes later.

For the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Monday, maximum snowfall is forecast to reach 70 cm (27.5 inches) in Hokuriku, 60 cm (23.5 inches) in the Tohoku region, 50 cm (19.5 inches) in the Kanto-Koshinetsu, Tokai, Kinki and Chugoku regions, 40 cm (15.7 inches) in northern parts of Kyushu, and 20 cm (7.8 inches) in southern parts of Kyushu and in Shikoku.

Through Monday, winds are expected to mark maximum speeds of 30 to 35 meters in many parts of Japan.