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Asia

Super typhoon Neoguri takes aim at Japan

Nearly 500,000 residents haven been evacuated from Japan's southern islands as weather forecasters predict a 14-meter storm surge, torrential rains, landslides and flooding.

The ocean quadrants on the Japan Meteorological Agency's map covering areas around the Okinawa archipelago and southern Japan are a blaze of worrying color. Yellow areas are classified as near-gale conditions, the three red sectors are listed as storm and the large parts of the East China Sea marked in purple are experiencing typhoon conditions.

The agency's website lists a litany of inclement weather conditions - thunderstorm, heavy rain, high waves, flood, gale - as Typhoon Neoguri sweeps across the ocean to the east of the Okinawan islands and approaches Kyushu, the most southerly of the main Japanese islands.

"Right now, the weather system is approaching the main island of Okinawa and we have issued emergency warnings for the whole region," Jitsuko Hasegawa, a spokeswoman for the agency told DW.

A man walks across a road at a pedestrian crossing amidst strong winds caused by Typhoon Neoguri in Naha, on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 8, 2014.

"This is one of the strongest typhoons we have ever recorded to approach Japan in July"

'Strongest typhoon'

"This is one of the strongest typhoons we have ever recorded to approach Japan in July," she said. "September is usually the time of year when we experience such storms and this would be a big typhoon even by standards for that time of year, but this is very unusual in July."

Moving at a speed of around 25 kilometers per hour, Neoguri - the name is Korean for "raccoon" - has an atmospheric pressure of 935 hectopascals and is generating winds of up to 50 meters per second at its centre with gusts up to 70 meters per second.

The meteorological agency has issued warnings for powerful gusts of wind and high waves throughout the Okinawa archipelago, with storm surges generating waves as high as 14 meters. Rainfall could be as much as 60 milimeters per hour in some parts of the island and local authorities on Miyakojima advised all 55,000 residents of the island to evacuate before the storm made landfall.

Keiji Furuya, the minister in charge of disaster management, briefed the cabinet late on Monday that his agency had told heads of local communities to not hesitate before issuing evacuation orders and to "not be afraid of being over-cautious."

'Quite a beating'

Chris Willson, a British photographer who lives on Okinawa, said his home overlooks the ocean and was "taking quite a beating from the wind." He added that rainwater was leaking through the windows and the large tree in his garden was being whipped around by the strongest gusts.

"It began to get really bad around midnight on Saturday and the storm is packing quite a punch right now," he told DW. "People are not too worried as typhoons hit Okinawa fairly regularly, so they are prepared for this sort of thing and take all the right precautions," he said. "Although it is unusual to have something this big so early in the season."

The American military on the islands has similarly taken precautions, evacuating some of its aircraft to other facilities in the region. "I can't stress how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa," James Hecker, commander of the US Air Force's 18th Wing, said in a statement.

Worst in 15 years

"This is the most powerful typhoon to hit the islands in 15 years; we expect damaging winds to arrive by early Tuesday morning." Heavy rain and strong winds were already affecting Kyushu on Tuesday as the leading edge of the weather pattern moved northwards. The meteorological agency said the typhoon is expected to weaken as it progresses, but it will still bring heavy rainfall to many parts of the Japanese mainland. It is predicted to affect Tokyo on Friday, when it may have been down-graded to a tropical storm.

Nevertheless, the rain and winds will affect transportation across the country, with air services already disrupted and trains delayed or cancelled. Emergency services are also warning that landslides are likely in mountainous areas that absorb a large amount of rain in a short period of time.

And scientists here are predicting that increasingly powerful super-typhoons will strike Japan if the effects of global warming continue to affect weather patterns in the Western Pacific.

These super-typhoons will be relatively small, but will contain a far higher concentration of energy and destructive power, according to the government-sponsored Innovative Program of Climate Change Projections for the 21st Century.

Worse than Katrina?

Working with researchers from the Meteorological Research Institute, the scientists believe that the storms will be more destructive than Hurricane Katrina, which caused devastation in states along the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005, killing more than 1,800 people.

High waves off the coast of Jeju Island, South Korea on 08 July 2014, as typhoon Neoguri approaches the Korean Peninsula.

If global warming continues at the present pace, the scientists predict the sea will be 2 degrees Centigrade warmer by 2080

Using the Earth Simulator supercomputer, the scientists predict that a typhoon with winds of 288 kilometers per hour could become a feature of Japan's weather patterns from 2074.

A super-typhoon is defined as a system packing winds of at least 241.2 kilometers per hour. The most important factor in the creation of these storms is the warming of sea surface temperatures in the Western Pacific. If global warming continues at the present pace, the scientists predict the sea will be 2 degrees Centigrade warmer by 2080. That sounds like a small difference, but it will have a very big impact on a typhoon's intensity.

A rise in air temperature will also increase the amount of water vapor in the lower atmosphere, which will add further energy to the system. To date, the most destructive typhoon to strike Japan was Typhoon Vera, which struck in September 1959. Known in Japan as the Isewan Typhoon, as it came ashore in Ise Bay near Nagoya, it killed 5,238 people. Many of the victims died in flooding when the levees in coastal areas broke.

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