• staff report, kyodo

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Heavy snowfall across wide areas of Japan over the New Year’s holiday period could disrupt public transit and prompt road closures, officials warned, just weeks after a snowstorm left thousands of people stranded on an expressway connecting Tokyo with Niigata Prefecture.

The Land, Infrastructure and Tourism Ministry said a strong winter pressure system is expected to dump snow over parts of the country from Wednesday through Friday. Heavy snow is expected mostly in regions facing the Sea of Japan, even in low-lying areas.

In a statement, the ministry urged people to avoid nonessential outings and said that those who do venture out should be aware of the risk becoming stuck due to heavy snow. It urged drivers to take steps in advance such as preparing chains and winter tires.

Public transportation could see large-scale and prolonged delays and suspensions, the statement warned.

On Tuesday, the Meteorological Agency said that through early Thursday, the Hokuriku region will likely see snowfall of up to 90 centimeters and the northern coast of the Chugoku region may see up to 70 cm of snow.

The coastal regions facing the Sea of Japan are expected to see renewed snowfall later in the week as a low pressure system moves eastward over the archipelago, bringing in a cold air mass, according to the agency.

Other parts of the country including Shikoku and Kyushu may also see some snow, the agency said.

It said that the cold air mass approaching this week would be more powerful than the one which brought heavy snow to central Japan earlier in the month and left hundreds of vehicles stranded on an expressway in Niigata Prefecture. During a five-day period from Wednesday, parts of the regions along the Sea of Japan could see more than twice the amount of average snowfall, the agency said.

Earlier this month, heavy snow left about 2,100 vehicles stranded on the Kan-Etsu Expressway, with some stuck overnight or forced to evacuate to nearby hotels. Self-Defense Forces personnel joined a massive effort to clear the expressway. That storm also knocked out power to thousands and disrupted some public transportation services.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated his call for residents to celebrate the year-end and New Year’s period quietly due to the spread of COVID-19 infections. A lighter than usual travel rush could ease the impact of the heavy snow. In normal years, trains fill up and long traffic jams form on expressways as people travel across the country to visit relatives.

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