|Typhoon Roke over Japan [NASA]
Yet again, Japan finds itself on the receiving end of massive natural forces. Typhoon Roke is following hard on the heels of Typhoon Talas which, earlier this month, caused the deaths of at least 67 people.
At 0700 GMT Wednesday Typhoon Roke was located close to Kakegawa and it was expected to track northeast, close to Tokyo, before moving out into the Pacific. Its track is expected to be close enough to Hokkaido to threaten parts of the island with major rainfall.
Rainfall totals from the islands of Kyushu, Shikoku and western Honshu have mostly been between 100 and 150 millmetres over the last 24 hours but in a few locations they have totalled in excess of 400 millimetres. Taken in isolation this torrential rain would be enough to cause concern about the risk of flooding. But Japan has experienced so much rain over the last few weeks that water levels are very high and this rain is sure to cause very serious flooding issues.
To make matters worse, weather forecasts suggest another 200 to 250 millimetres of rain will fall in eastern parts of the country before Roke eventually leaves the land and tracks into the Pacific.
Winds, too, are a significant hazard. Sustained winds of 165 kph, strong enough to cause structural damage, are expected to decrease to around 100 kph. The combination of very strong winds and saturated ground will also weaken tree roots, so there may be more fallen trees than would otherwise be the case.
In March this year Japan suffered the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The Fukushima nuclear plant,which was badly damaged,is thought to be at risk from Roke. There is concern that torrential rain could cause radioactive seawater at the plant to overflow into the sea or groundwater.
Disruption ahead of Roke has seen evacuation warnings issued to more than 1.3 million people. Sadly, despite the warnings, four people have already died as the result of floods and two are reported missing. Flights and bullet trains have been cancelled and the car manufacturer, Toyota, has been forced to suspend production in most of its plants.
Although some may feel that Japan has suffered enough the effects of tropical storms in 2011, it should be pointed out that the typhoon season runs until January. Unfortunately Japan may well experience more dreadful weather conditions before the year is out.