Powerful typhoon threatens to drown election turnout

Kyodo, Bloomberg

A powerful typhoon is approaching the Japanese archipelago and the stormy conditions it is projected to generate over much of the Pacific coast could lower turnout for Sunday’s general election.

As of Saturday afternoon, Typhoon Lan had an atmospheric pressure of 925 hectopascals and was packing sustained winds of 180 kph and gusts of up to 252 kph, the Meteorological Agency said Saturday. It was moving north-northeast at 15 kph south of Okinawa’s Minamidaito Island.

The Meteorological Agency said the season’s 21st typhoon is expected to approach the mainland from Sunday to Monday and could make landfall as it moves toward the Pacific coast.

The agency warned about heavy rain hitting the Kyushu and Tokai regions Sunday that could trigger mudslides and flooded rivers.

A typhoon during the Lower House election in October 1979 dropped more than 100 mm of rain on Tokyo and Yokohama in a single day. Voter turnout in Tokyo dropped to just over 53 percent, or more than 10 points lower than the two previous general elections.

Some municipalities have decided to move the vote to Saturday or to close their polling stations earlier than scheduled on Sunday.

Beyond lowering voter turnout, Lan could cause an estimated ¥2.8 trillion to ¥4 trillion ($25 billion to $35 billion) in damage, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Georgia.

If it stays on track, Lan will approach Tokyo Bay at about 3 a.m. Monday. A wobble in the storm’s path could limit damage, but the current forecast is pretty much “a worst-case track,” Watson said.

Japan has infrastructure that is better-equipped to handle a storm like Lan than the United States, Watson said.

“For typhoons, they are better prepared and better able to deal with them than the U.S. is for hurricanes,” he said. “Bring that same storm into New York City or Miami and it is a $75 billion to $100 billion storm.”

Lan is the latest in a string of tropical cyclones including Maria, Irma, Harvey and Ophelia that have struck in the Americas and Ireland in the past two months.

“Since August, this is now the 17th incident I have tracked that threatens more than 1 million people and could cause over $1 billion in damage,” Watson said.