Typhoon Wipha heads to Fukushima

Once-in-a-decade event poses a huge flood potential, say meteorologists

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Tuesday 15 October 2013

Typhoon Wipha, packing winds of 140 kilometre per hour (km/hr), is moving towards north Tokyo where the crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant lies. Wipha is moving from the Pacific, south of Japan. Wipha is being described as “once in a decade” typhoon. The Japanese government has ordered cancellation of flights and trains.

According to Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the centre of the storm was 860 km southwest of Tokyo on Tuesday. It was moving north-northeast at 35 km/hr. The storm had weakened as it headed north over the sea but was still packing sustained winds of about 140 km/hr, the agency said. JMA has issued warning of heavy rain and flooding.

According to media reports, it was forecast to reach an area off the Tokyo metropolitan area by early Wednesday and later in the day would be off the coast of Fukushima. The nuclear power plant was recently in news for series of radioactive leaks. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has said that it is preparing to face the storm. "We are making preparations for proper management of contaminated water... We will patrol places that could have inflows of water (from the storm)," a company spokesperson told media. Cables and hoses are bundled together, while ground and off-shore works have been halted, he added. The storm is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rain, and high waves to the Japanese coast from Tokyo northward.

“The storm poses a huge flood potential for Fukushima area,” Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at WeatherBell Analytics, a private forecasting firm, told Climate Central, a Princeton based media group on climate change. “Deep convection on the westward flank of the storm plus the topography of Japan means heavy rain for the coastline regardless of the typhoon's track,” he said in an email message to Climate Central. Maue predicted that it will grow and strengthen as it makes its closest pass to Japan, aided by strong jet stream winds in the upper atmosphere.

A team from International Atomic Energy Agency is currently in Japan to figure out the challenge of storing large amounts of radioactive material on the plant site. The Fukushima nuclear power plant was badly hit by tsunami and earthquake in March 2011, leaving it crippled. While the clean-up is still not complete, another storm could make the matters worse. 

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