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JapanFocus
Japanese Tornadoes Not As Uncommon as Believed
A look back after deadly storm kills 9 in Japan
Robert Neff (neff)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-11-09 07:30 (KST)   
Just after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, Keiki Takeda opened her window to peer outside at the suddenly darkening sky and the howling wind. Powerful gusts of wind swirled around the small city of Saroma and then suddenly developed into a twisting funnel known in Japanese as tatsumaki -- the spiraling dragons.

Some later claimed to have witnessed two funnels. Cars were flipped upside down and buildings ripped apart under the horrific assault of the "spiraling dragons." Keiki proclaimed in an interviewed by NHK, a Japanese broadcaster, "it was very strong, but it was over very quickly." Other residents were in disbelief of what had just transpired. Katsuya Watanabe, 67, who runs a small hotel, exclaimed, "Never in my life have I heard of a tornado in our neighborhood."

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The tornado's wind speed, estimated to have been more than 155 mph, destroyed or severely damaged forty-one buildings and cut off power to much of this isolated community of 6,244 people located on the northern island of Hokkaido . The human toll was severe: nine dead and twenty-six injured. Many of the injured were construction workers who were building a tunnel on one end of the city. As many as twenty workers were initially trapped under the debris of their prefabricated houses that served as temporary dormitories.

On Wednesday the residents of the city began to clean up the debris and salvage what they could. Crushed cars, debris from buildings, and downed power lines litter the city. The Japanese government has dispatched several teams, including a team of 300 members to survey damage to the tunnel site and the damaged buildings, and first aid and relief workers. In addition, search and rescue dogs have been sent in response to the initial report that two people were missing and feared trapped under the debris. Of the 26 wounded, most were light injuries, but seven men and one woman were in serious condition -- the woman still unconscious but recovering.

Although tornadoes are relatively rare in Japan, they are far more frequent than most people believe. According to an article in Journal of Climate, there are, on average, 20 tornadoes a year, but the damage they cause and the loss of human life is low compared to the other natural disasters that strike the island nation.(1) Tuesday's tornado was the second deadly tornado to strike Japan in as many months. According to the Central Meteorological Agency, the worst tornado previously recorded in Japan was just two months ago, when three people were killed on the southern island of Kyushu. The agency only has records of tornado-related deaths going back to 1961.

Tuesday's tornado may have been Japan's deadliest since 1961, but it is not the most powerful or deadliest in Japan's history. The first recorded F4 tornado to strike Japan was on December 11, 1990 at Mobara. It devastated nearly 1,000 homes and injured 78 people, fortunately there were no casualties. The deadliest tornado was on Sept. 26, 1881, in the city of Miyazaki. A powerful tornado struck an elementary school and left 16 children dead.

Although there are more tornadoes in the United States than any other country in the world - tornadoes can be found anywhere. In Asia, powerful tornadoes have struck China, Philippines, India, Singapore, Vietnam, Pakistan and Myanmar. The worst tornado in terms of lives lost was in Bangladesh in April 1989. In between 500 and 1,200 people were killed with about 80,000 people made homeless.

Regions Experiencing Tornadoes
©2006 National Climatic Data Center (USA)

According to the National Climatic Data Center (USA): "[T]ornadoes have been documented in every one of the United States, and on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica (even there, a tornado occurrence is not impossible)."

Powerful Japanese Tornadoes


Sept. 26, 1881 Miyazaki 16 fatalities

Sept. 23, 1903 Yodobashi City 10 fatalities, 14 injured

Nov. 28, 1941 Toyohashi City 12 fatalities, 177 injured,
347 homes destroyed

Nov. 10, 1957 Tomiye City 8 fatalities

May 24, 1964 Tokyo 480 homes damaged

Sept. 12, 2000 Tokyo Damaged several homes

Sept. 18, 2006 Nobeoka 3 fatalities

Nov. 7, 2006 Saroma 9 fatalities, 26 injured
(1) Hiroshi Niino, Tokunosuke Fujitani, and Nobuyuki Watanabe, "A Statistical Study of Tornadoes and Waterspouts in Japan from 1961 to 1993," Journal of Climate, Vol. 10, Issue 7 (July 1997)
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Robert Neff

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