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Rare Japanese tornado kills 1, injures 48

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 1:28 PM GMT on May 07, 2012

A rare strong tornado ripped through Ibaraki Prefecture in eastern Japan 30 miles northeast of Tokyo on Sunday, killing a teenage boy, injuring 48 people, and damaging or destroying 890 buildings. The tornado carved a path of destruction 15 km long and 500 meters wide, said the Japan Meteorological Agency. The tornado was given a preliminary rating of F-2, with winds of 113 - 157 mph (Japan uses the traditional "F" scale to rate tornadoes, not the "EF" scale used in the U.S.) The tornado also damaged homes in a housing complex in Tsukuba where 20 people from seven families from Fukushima Prefecture had evacuated following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, caused by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. I bet those families are feeling disaster-prone!

Video 1. A rare tornado in Japan hits approximately 30 miles northeast of Tokyo on May 6, 2012.

Japan's tornado climatology
Tornadoes are rare in Japan, due to the fact the nation is surrounded by ocean, which tends to stabilize the air. Between 1961 - 2010, an average of 15 tornadoes per year hit Japan, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Only four F-3 tornadoes have hit Japan. The most recent F-3 hit on November 7, 2006, in the Wakasa area of Saroma, Hokkaido. Nine people died and 26 were injured. Over 30 buildings, including a dwelling, warehouses and temporary structures were damaged or destroyed. No violent F-4 or F-5 tornadoes have been recorded in Japan, according the Japan Meteorological Agency, though other sources list a December, 1990 tornado as having been an F-4. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt has more details in his latest post, Deadliest Tornadoes. Only one F-2 tornado hit Japan in both 2010 and 2011. A 1997 study published in the Journal of Climate found that Japanese tornadoes occurred most frequently in September and least frequently in March, and that typhoons were responsible for about 20% of all the tornadoes. A list of Asian tornado outbreaks maintained at Wikipedia lists the deadliest Japanese tornado as one on 6 September, 1881, which killed 16 people.

Figure 1. Distribution of tornadoes in Japan, 1961 - 2010. Image credit: Japan Meteorological Agency.

Jeff Masters


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