Tokyo can't handle heavy snowfall

Tokyo can't handle heavy snowfall

TOKYO —

“Because the westerly winds that determine the boundary between cold and warm fronts have been meandering to the south of the Japanese archipelago, it’s predicted that this will continue to enable cold continental air masses to flow over Japan. We forecast that movements of the atmosphere around the Arctic will further exacerbate the chill.”

Norihisa Fujikawa, an official at the government’s Metrological Agency, delivers this warning in the February issue of Sapio.

The heaviest snowfall ever recorded in the Tokyo area—46 centimeters (18 inches)—fell in February 1883. An article in the Feb 9, 1883 issue of the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun (the forerunner of the Mainichi) reported, “Today, neither horse-drawn streetcars, nor horse carriages nor jinrikishas can be seen on the streets.”

Journalist Minoru Watanabe, who specializes in coverage of disasters and crisis management, notes that the more advanced and complex functions large cities assume, the greater the risk of problems in the event of heavy snowfalls.

“When 8 cm fell on Tokyo a year ago, the city practically descended into panic,” Watanabe is quoted as saying. “A heavy snowfall would paralyze most of the city’s functions and leave the transport network in tatters. The railway switchers would fail to function and signal cables snap. The schedules of the subway lines that share their tracks with regular commuter trains would be thrown into disarray. Auto traffic would come to a standstill.”

A member of the Tottori prefectural government recalls when some 1,000 vehicles were stranded due to a truck accident on National Highway No. 9 on New Year’s Day in 2011, and the Self Defense Force had to be mobilized to provide stranded drivers with food, fuel and blankets. Masatoshi Yoshino, professor emeritus at Tsukuba University, believes Tokyo could very well incur a similar calamity.

“The national and metropolitan government need to run detailed simulations for such matters as snow removal, providing fuel to stranded vehicles, assigning detour routes and so on,” Yoshino advises.

According a staff member of the metropolitan government’s construction bureau, presently the system for dealing with snow is set up with Tokyo segmented into 11 sectors. These offices issue requests to the private sector when snow removal is needed. But neither the government nor private companies own so much as a single dedicated snow removal vehicle, so the task is entrusted to bulldozer operators at construction companies.

Sapio points out that the biggest problems caused by a heavy snowfall would be the city’s water and electricity. If the temperature drops below minus 4 degrees Celsius for several hours, water in the pipes freezes and expands, causing pipes to rupture. Last winter, Tokyo reported some 200 such cases, and the figure in 2011 was about 550 cases. Ominously, in both of these cases the temperature remained higher than minus 4 degrees.

The capital’s electric grid is the source of another potential crisis. The heavy snow last January caused power outages of nearly 12 hours in some parts of Funabashi and Ishihara cities in Chiba prefecture.

According to Watanabe, the cause of the outage was the collapse of steel towers supporting power transmission lines caused by heavy snowfalls. In the affected areas, water pumps failed to operate, along with elevators in apartments, air conditioners and electric space heaters. “This was an extremely dangerous situation for elderly persons who live alone,” he said.

In the event a major snowfall appears imminent, Sapio advises these precautions: avoid leaving home to the greatest degree possible; stock up on sufficient supplies of foods; and keep cooking and heating devices on hand that can be utilized even when no electricity is available.

  • -1

    avigator

    I do not mind heavy snowfall during work days, so we can be excused for a day or so with pay.

  • 2

    Serrano

    On the morning of last year's snowfall, Tokyoites were slipping and sliding all over the snow and ice covered streets and sidewalks.

  • 1

    gaijintraveller

    It is very hard to keep heating devices when there is no electricity. Simple gas heaters that no not require electricity seem no longer available. Similarly, household paraffin heaters are require electricity so that they can play annoying tunes or tell you to open a window.

  • -1

    warispeace

    Though it will cause major disruptions, a heavy snowfall and other extreme weather events may be the only thing that wakes people up from their over-consumptive and convenience addicted lifestyles and gets them thinking seriously about human induced climate change. Some people will suffer, but far more are suffering and will suffer as the planet continues to warm, oceans rise and weather patterns change.

  • 4

    Mike Sims-Williams

    @gaijintraveller you can still find plenty of no-electric models made by Corona, Toyotomi and others. Search for 石油ストーブ

  • 6

    Frungy

    This article is pure misinformation and hysteria.

    Sapio points out that the biggest problems caused by a heavy snowfall would be the city’s water and electricity. If the temperature drops below minus 4 degrees Celsius for several hours, water in the pipes freezes and expands, causing pipes to rupture.

    I live in an area of Japan where the temperature has been below -4 for the last day or so . My toilet is fine, my pipes are not frozen. The author's claim is untrue. I've heard of this happening in places in the far north of Japan where the temperature stays below -10 or so for days, but not where I live. The solution is so simple that it is ridiculous, just run the water a trickle and it never freezes.

    According to the aforementioned Watanabe, the cause of the outage was the collapse of steel towers supporting power transmission lines caused by heavy snowfalls.

    The author seriously believes that a couple of kgs of snow sitting on the towers will cause them to collapse? Either the Tokyo power towers are INCREDIBLY badly constructed (in which case a strong wind would collapse them) or this is utter nonsense.

    I could go on, but this article is so ridiculous that I'm shocked it was published.

  • 3

    25psot

    Tokyo can handle pretty good earthquake so handling any snowfall and few broken pipes should be next to nothing for city of Tokyo.

  • 5

    Randy Thompson

    Might be a problem in Tokyo, but living in Amori Prefecture for almost four years I know one thing, one gets use to the snow and cold and go with life!

  • 5

    Patrick Smith

    We just had about 40cm of snow and -25 C in Chicago and we survived. People are too comfortable in the Tokyo area.

  • 5

    edojin

    I have seen a light snow covering cause havoc here in the Tokyo area. So it doesn't matter if it's light or heavy, any kind of snow handcuffs Tokyo ...

  • -2

    StormR

    Not going to happen

  • 1

    hameln

    @Frungy

    The author seriously believes that a couple of kgs of snow sitting on the towers will cause them to collapse? Either the Tokyo power towers are INCREDIBLY badly constructed (in which case a strong wind would collapse them) or this is utter nonsense.

    We are talking about thermal expansion. The volume of iron will get smaller and in the same time the volume of water will get bigger.

  • 5

    KnowBetter

    So which is it now?!? Are we going to burn to a crisp here on earth or are we going to freeze to death as this NEW ice age begins? The media just loves this crap and can't sell enough of it. Snow is snow and if people just used some common sense, they can easily deal with it.

    If you, as most of us living in an earthquake zone, have your emergency 72 hour kit at the ready then if you get stuck at home when the power goes out due to a horrific snowfall, you should be prepared. Unless so much of the stuff falls and it's really wet and heavy, your house will fair much better than during a quake and you'll have plenty of things to talk about with your neighbours as you plow the snow out of the way.

    Relax,... winters used to be like this and some people had to walk to school in a metre of snow, 15 kms, uphill, BOTH WAYS or so the stories go.

  • -6

    Frungy

    hamelnJan. 12, 2014 - 09:40PM JST We are talking about thermal expansion. The volume of iron will get smaller and in the same time the volume of water will get bigger.

    Tokyo regularly hits zero during winters, and another 4 degrees down shouldn't make a difference if the towers were engineered properly with the normal safety margins. If they are falling down then the problem is the normal one in Japan, that someone cut corners during construction. When someone cuts corners during construction and substitutes sub-standard materials then ANYTHING could cause a disaster. The problem isn't winter, the problem is backhanders and back-room deals in Tokyo. The solution isn't to whine about the weather, the solution is to go looking for the construction company owner and arrest them.

  • 2

    Star-viking

    Article says transmission rowers collapsed in Tokyo, can only find a picture from Shimane...colour me skeptical.

    As for the snowfall - come to Tohoku you wimps!

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    Article says transmission rowers collapsed in Tokyo,

    Article says Chiba, not Tokyo.

  • 1

    WilliB

    I love snow in Tokyo---- it is always great entertainment. Like a Charlie Chaplin movie live on the streets. Drivers and pedestrians are totally clueless about how deal with snow here.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    "But neither the government nor private companies own so much as a single dedicated snow removal vehicle, so the task is entrusted to bulldozer operators at construction companies."

    Is this another potential disaster and windfall for construction companies? Sound familiar?

  • 0

    slumdog

    "But neither the government nor private companies own so much as a single dedicated snow removal vehicle, so the task is entrusted to bulldozer operators at construction companies."

    The JSDF has bulldozers.

    http://www.military-today.com/engineering/type_75.htm

  • -1

    harvey pekar

    It's under control.

  • 1

    ebisen

    more than 5 cm, and Tokyo is kind of clueless... I think the number of broken limbs and car (slow speed) crashed suddenly increases a few times...

  • -1

    Fox Cloud Lelean

    I think an inability to cope with heavy snowfall is quite a common thing. In January last year, Britain experienced one of the coldest winters on record, and Britain seemed to grind to a halt. Didn't really affect me though. I had the week off for the worst of it, and I live on the coast. I quite like the snow anyway. Unless 30 inches of it falls, I'll be fine. Trains seem to get cancelled at the drop of a hat. Or a leaf. It's amazing that anyone even uses them. My advice: Chill out, don't panic.

  • 0

    Mar044

    I am canadian and moving to japan, and the one thing i made sure of, is I looked into living in a place with snow, snow and me mix, embrace the white snow as your friend :)

  • 0

    gokai_wo_maneku

    I don't remember any panic during last year's snow here in central Tokyo (Shinjuku).

  • 1

    WilliB

    gokai_wo

    " I don't remember any panic during last year's snow here in central Tokyo (Shinjuku). "

    Last year, there was not much snow to speak of. Still, enough for some epic entertainment here in Shinagawa.

  • -1

    AKBfan

    i think we do a pretty good job in tokyo. look what happens in the UK when there is more than an inch of snow.......

  • 2

    Ah_so

    i think we do a pretty good job in tokyo. look what happens in the UK when there is more than an inch of snow.......

    Whenever there is snow in the UK commentators come out with the same commetns about Scandinavian countries having several feet of snow and not being affected as though the UK were uniquely inept. I think back to Japan and much the same is true - the residents of Yuki-Guni live with heavy snowfall for several months of the year and look at Tokyo with amusement when a couple of centimetres brings it to a standstill.

    The truth is that you build your infrastructure according to your typical conditions. Tokyo could spend a fortune on being snow-ready, but as it rarely snows, it is cheaper to have a day of disruption once a year. The northern kens need to be resiliant to snow for much of the year and so plan accordingly.

  • 2

    albaleo

    @Frungy "a couple of kgs of snow sitting on the towers will cause them to collapse"

    The problem is generally with ice accumulating on the power lines. Depending on conditions, this can add a huge weight. Tons rather than kilograms. It's not unusual to read of electric towers collapsing from heavy snow falls in Europe and North America.

  • 4

    kchoze

    I live in an area of Japan where the temperature has been below -4 for the last day or so . My toilet is fine, my pipes are not frozen. The author's claim is untrue. I've heard of this happening in places in the far north of Japan where the temperature stays below -10 or so for days, but not where I live. The solution is so simple that it is ridiculous, just run the water a trickle and it never freezes.

    This isn't only dependent on weather, it's dependent on how deep the pipes are buried. In general, they are buried at a distance considered "safe", below the penetration level of freezing temperatures. Where I'm from, Québec, we sometimes get -10 or -20 cold waves in winter and water pipes tend to resist, because they're really buried deep in the ground, and our homes tend to be well insulated with good central heating. Still, I had an uncle who let the faucet run in really cold waves to avoid having water freeze in the pipes.

    But if Tokyo's water pipes aren't built to deal with cold temperatures and are too close to the surface, then they can break even at -4 like the author says.

    The author seriously believes that a couple of kgs of snow sitting on the towers will cause them to collapse? Either the Tokyo power towers are INCREDIBLY badly constructed (in which case a strong wind would collapse them) or this is utter nonsense.

    Power line towers are built to support a certain weight, essentially their own weight and the weight of cables, with maybe a little snow added to them (and wind). If there is more snow than expected, then towers might collapse. Again, in Québec, we had an ice storm in 1998, with up to 70 mm of freeing rain resulting in nearly 2-3 inches of ice buildup on everything. Towers did collapse at that time, it's one of the lasting images of the disaster, rows of power lines crumbled under the weight of ice. Just Google it.

    Power line towers are built according to local climate predictions, but if the predictions say that the 1 in a century event has 10 cm of snow falling, but there falls 40 m of them, then towers may well fall, because the weight they have to support is beyond the specifications for which they were designed.

    Why not design them to be tougher? Cost, essentially. Overdesigning structures costs a lot of money.

  • -1

    AramaTaihenNoYouDidnt

    Tokyo can't handle ANYTHING heavy.... !!

  • 2

    kickboard

    Meanwhile in Atlanta ...

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