Sapporo website offers 'slipperiness forecasts' in winter to prevent accidents on streets and sidewalks

While most winter weather reports broadcast the likelihood of snow, wind or ice, meteorologists in Sapporo forecast the slipperiness of pavement to help pedestrians walk safely in the cold.

A certified forecaster at the Japan Weather Association, Fumiyoshi Kawamura, 47, takes turns with five colleagues to issue “tsuru-tsuru (slipperiness) forecasts” at 5 p.m. for each morning between December and mid-March.

The forecasts began in fiscal 2007 and are posted on the Walk Smart website of the Winter Life Promotion Council, an organization set up to serve Sapporo residents and visitors in the colder months of the year. They evaluate the expected slipperiness of pavement using three levels: “very slippery,” “slippery” and “not so slippery.”

Slipping on ice or snow is a common hazard in snowy regions and sometimes causes severe injury or even death.

Sapporo, Hokkaido’s biggest city, saw roughly 1,000 people taken to hospitals last fiscal year due to injuries from ice-related falls. Some 40 percent were hospitalized and one died, according to the fire department.

A survey of domestic and foreign tourists found 1 in 5 respondents had fallen while traveling in Hokkaido, according to the Walk Smart website.

Ambulances requests in Sapporo hit an annual record of 1,317 in fiscal 2012. The single-day record of 163 was set on Dec. 21, 2014, when nearly every ambulances in the city had to respond to emergency calls from people who had slipped on ice.

“I feel more responsible now,” Kawamura said of the growing public attention to the forecasts.

Slipperiness forecasts require that Kawamura check the condition of snow and ice on the streets every morning and evening, while factoring in temperature and weather projections through the next morning.

Human traffic flow is another component. If many pedestrians trample snow on top of pavement, it will likely become very slippery.

“It is necessary to check the flow of people, for example seeing if there is a major event in the neighborhood, as it will affect the pavement conditions,” Kawamura said.

Prediction gets especially difficult in December, when temperatures often fluctuate, he added, noting that pavement can get very slippery when snow refreezes after a momentary thaw.

Nevertheless, 57 percent of the forecasts were accurate in the previous fiscal year.

Kawamura said he hopes people will become more aware of the danger and that the number of people related hospital visits “will drop below 1,000” in the fiscal year through March.

The Walk Smart website also offers tips on footwear and dangerous walking habits and describes the weather conditions most likely to result in hazardous pavement.

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