WunderBlog Archive » Weather Extremes

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

Japanese Record Snowfalls

By: Christopher C. Burt, 9:28 PM GMT on March 05, 2014

Japanese Record Snowfalls

February was an interesting month for Japan snow-wise. A couple of rare heavy snowfalls struck the greater Tokyo area with one city, Kofu, smashing its all-time snow depth record with 114 cm/44.9” accumulating by February 15th. Details about this storm can be found here. However, the normally very snowy areas on the west coast of Honshu Island have averaged much below normal (as little as 34% of normal snowfall in some areas). Here is a summary of Japan’s all-time snow records.

This blog should be considered a guest blog by Japanese climate researcher Yusuke Uemura who has provided the data listed below. He includes both official data collected by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and unofficial data collected primarily by the Japan National Railway network that maintained detailed snowfall records at many of their stations.

Snow tourism is a big deal in Japan and this map, produced by Japan-Guide.com, shows some of the popular snow destinations and also includes the locations for a few of the sites listed below.

First of all, here is a list of the snowiest official (JMA) and unofficial cities and locations in Japan:

The snowiest city with a population over one million:

Sapporo city, prefecture of Hokkaido (population 1.9 million, elevation of the observatory 17m). Annual Average Snowfall 597 cm/235.0” (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 680 cm/267.7” (1996), monthly snowfall record 273 cm/107.5” (1981/01), snow depth record 169 cm/66.5” (1939/2/13).

The snowiest city with a population over 300,000, as well as the snowiest prefectural capital in Japan:

Aomori city, prefecture of Aomori (population 300,000 elevation of the observatory 3m). Annual Average Snowfall 669 cm/263.4” (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 1263 cm/497.2” (1986), monthly snowfall record 527 cm/207.4” (1977/01), snow depth record 209 cm/82.3” (1945/2/21)

The snowiest city with a population over 50,000:

Tokamachi city, prefecture of Nigata (population 50,000, elevation of the observatory 170m). The city is located in the heart of "snow country" as it is called in Japan. Annual Average Snowfall 1169 cm/460.2” (1981-2010), annual snowfall record 2159 cm/850.0” (1987), monthly snowfall record 660 cm/259.8” (1987/01), snow depth record 391 cm/153.9” (1981/1/23). JMA records began in 1980

The snowiest town with a population over 10,000:

Tsunan town, prefecture of Nigata (population 10,000, elevation of the observatory 452m). Annual Average Snowfall 1349 cm/531.1” (1989-2010), annual snowfall record 2029 cm/798.8” (2006), monthly snowfall record 673 cm/265.0” (2005/12), snow depth record 416 cm/163.8” (2006/2/5). JMA records began in 1989.

The snowiest official JMA site:

Sukayu; a hot springs resort surrounded by mountains in the prefecture of Aomori (northern Honshu Island). Although it has an official JMA meteorological observatory, Sukayu is not a town but an "onsen (hot spring)" resort with hotels and "ryokan". They’re few, if any, private residences (somewhat like the U.S.A.’s snowiest location Paradise Ranger Station on Mt. Rainer in Washington State). Annual Average Snowfall 1764 cm/694.5” (1981-2000), annual snowfall record 2376 cm/935.4” (1996), monthly snowfall record 561 cm/220.9” (1988/02), snow depth record 523 cm/205.9” (2013/2/24). JMA records began in 1979

An interesting photo of Illiyama, Nagano Prefecture following a snowstorm that dropped 2.45 m (13 feet) of snow on the town in early March 2006. Photo Getty.

Unofficial snowiest locations in Japan:

Myoko-kogen town, prefecture of Nigata (population 7,000, no JMA official observatory). Snowfall is measured by the prefecture and data from 1995 is available here in Japanese. Annual Average Snowfall 1507 cm/593.3” (1995-2012), annual snowfall record 2324 cm/915.0” (2012), monthly snowfall record 1024 cm/403.1” (2012/01), snow depth record 390 cm/153.6” (2012/2/3).

Matsunoyama town, prefecture of Nigata (population 3,000, no JMA official observatory). A town that is allegedly snowier than Myoko-kogen town. The prefecture measures snowfall but the lack of some data makes the comparison difficult. In January 2011, monthly snowfall reached 1160 cm/456.7”.

The famous Yuki-no-Otani snow canyon along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route that connects the Japanese municipalities of Tateyama and Omachi. Photographer not identified, from buzzhunt.com

Greatest Annual and 24-hour Snowfalls Measured by Japan National Railways

During the season of 1944-1945, one of the snowiest in modern Japanese records history, the Japan National Railway conducted a survey of each of its stations where snowfall was abundant in the Japanese Alps region of Nigata Prefecture. Some astonishing figures were recorded:

3,555 cm/1,480” at Oshirakawa Station, Uonuma
3,280 cm/1,291” at Echigo-yuzawa Station, Yuzawa
3,126 cm/ 1,231” at Irihirose Station, Uonuma,
3,090 cm/1,216” at Sekiyama Station, Myoko,
3,010 cm/1,185” at Tsuchitaru Station, Yuzawa

If one assumes this information was accurate, then all of the above sites measured greater accumulations than the North American record of 1,140”/2,896 cm at Mt. Baker, Washington during the season of 1998-1999.

The rail network also measured one 24-hour snowfall that was greater than the official North American record of 75.8”/192.5 cm (Silver Lake, Colorado on April 14-15, 1921) when 210 cm/82.7” accumulated at Sekiyama Station, Nigata Prefecture on January 17, 1946.

Oshirakawa Station averaged 1950 cm/767.7" of seasonal snowfall during the POR of 1969-1998. The snowiest single season was that of 1980-1981 when 3317 cm/1305.9" accumulated including an amazing 1546 cm/608.7" in the month of January 1981 alone!

The greatest 24-hour snowfall and snow depth ever measured on earth occurred in February 1927 when 230 cm/90.6” fell at Mt. Ibuki, Shiga Prefecture on February 14, 1927. This storm brought the snow depth at the site to a world-record 465.4”.

KUDOS: Yusuke Uemura for all of the above information.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

I would not want to be on that bus if one of the canyon sides collapsed!
I used to live in Sapporo. Hokkaido is a skier/snowboarder's paradise. Short lift lines (at least when I was there in the late 90s), authentic ramen or udon for lunch, and a dip in the local hot spring -- with a cold beer -- at the end of the day.

On the other hand, the town of Miyazaki has an all time record of snow depth of just 3cm !
That's because the southeastern coast is protected by the topography , while western coast and the western side of the Mountain range receive most of the precipitation (sometimes in form of snow).

We might add a curiosity: Japanese central and southeastern coast have the world highest ratio of day with snow falling vs. days with snow on the ground.

I need to get deeper in my research to identify the exact winner,but there are stations which have in average more than 50 days with snow falling for every day with snow on the ground.

Thank you for the entry, weatherhistorian.

About the unidentified photo: German report from a reliable newspaper (March 7,2006) about a catastrophic snowy cold spell that year has a caption which says, it's the town Iliyama in the prefecture of Nagano (FOTO: JIJI PRESS, AFP).

English blog with the same photo from Jan 9,2006 got the caption:
Image: 13 feet of snow have fallen on Nagano Prefecture, Japan; Jiji Press/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images/New York Times

Portuguese blog from Jan 2006 with even more photos.

I always have fun with some success in a little internet hunt, lol.
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.