The new norm: Japanese experts warn of more rain, raging rivers and submerged homes

Japan Times -- Oct 24
With torrential rain, raging rivers and submerged homes, the havoc wrought by Typhoon Hagibis was a grim reminder that extreme weather may now be the new norm in this disaster-prone nation.

It was only last month that compact Typhoon Faxai nailed the Kanto region, blowing off roofs and triggering massive blackouts in Chiba Prefecture. But the damage from giant Hagibis — which had morphed into the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane before weakening upon approach — was a double whammy for areas struggling to get back on their feet and a wake-up call on how centralized disaster planning seems to be failing Japan.

As of Tuesday, the government confirmed that the record-breaking rainfall Hagibis brought caused levees to collapse at a whopping 135 spots in 71 rivers, including the Chikuma and the Abukuma, which inundated communities in Nagano, Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures.

The storm left at least 84 people dead and nine missing, according to NHK. Nearly 68,600 homes were flooded, with around 5,800 destroyed or heavily damaged. Nearly 4,000 people remain in evacuation centers.

“We should expect the frequency of powerful typhoons and heavy rains to grow with global warming,” said Kazuhisa Tsuboki, a professor at the Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research at Nagoya University.

Warm ocean temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the air that feeds typhoons, Tsuboki said, and research has shown the strongest ones have only grown stronger in East and Southeast Asia.

“Typhoon risks for midlatitude countries such as Japan are definitely escalating,” he said, adding that Faxai and Hagibis, the 15th and 19th named storms of the season, respectively, were among the strongest to make landfall in the Kanto and Tokai regions since the Meteorological Agency began keeping records in 1951.

Accurate forecasts of intensity and moisture are vital to prepare for incoming typhoons, but Tsuboki said the methods employed by the Meteorological Agency using satellite images are inadequate. “Ideally, we should be flying weather observation aircraft, but that’s still at an experimental stage.”

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