Japan’s Latest Billion-Dollar Typhoon: Hagibis

October 14, 2019, 5:34 AM EDT

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Above: This aerial view shows a flooded area besides the Abukuma river in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on October 13, 2019, one day after Typhoon Hagibis swept through central and eastern Japan. Image credit: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images.

A massive rescue and recovery operation extended from Sunday into Monday across central and eastern Japan following Typhoon Hagibis, the second Category 2 storm to make landfall in the Tokyo area in the past two months. Japan's official national broadcaster NHK reported that 58 people died from Hagibis, 14 were missing, and more than 210 were injured. The Associated Press was citing a Kyoto News estimate of 48 deaths, 17 people missing, and some 100 injured. The official death toll from Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency, which is more conservative in its assessments, was 24, with 9 missing, according to CBS. A death toll of 58 would make Hagibis Japan’s deadliest typhoon since Typhoon Talas of 2011, which killed 68 people, according to EM-DAT, the international disaster database.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference Sunday that more than 110,000 police officers, firefighters, coast guard officials and SDF personnel were taking part in rescue efforts. “Utmost efforts should be made to rescue people from inundated houses and look for people whose whereabouts are unknown,” Abe said, as reported by KNS.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that more than 375,000 homes were without electricity and 14,000 had no running water as of Sunday morning, according to weather.com.

Record-dousing rainfall

The most destructive aspect of Hagibis was torrential rainfall and resulting floods and mudslides. As it approached Japan, the former Category 5 super typhoon pushed a broad envelope of moisture onshore and upslope against the higher terrain of Honshu Island. A new calendar-day rainfall record for Japan was set at Hakone, on the southwest flank of Mt. Fuji and about 50 miles southwest of Tokyo, with 922.5 millimeters (36.32”) on Saturday. Going beyond midnight-to-midnight periods, the top 24-hour amount of 942.5 mm (37.11”) was Japan's second-heaviest 24-hour rainfall on record, according to the UK Met Office. Hakone also recorded 645.5 mm (25.4”) in just 12 hours, noted the office.

Hagibis made landfall on Japan’s Izu Peninsula around 10Z (7 pm local time) Saturday with top sustained winds estimated between 85 and 100 mph by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Later that evening, the center passed just west of Tokyo, where winds gusted as high as 98 mph. The typhoon’s track across the Tokyo area was strikingly similar to that of Typhoon Faxai, which hit two months earlier. Packing landfall winds of 100 mph, that typhoon moved on a track displaced only about 10-20 miles to the east of Hagibis' path in the Tokyo area. Despite these similarities, Hagibis was a larger, more mature cyclone prior to landfall, and its damage may well prove more extensive than the toll of at least $7 billion wreaked by Faxai.

As Hagibis bore down, a dramatic tornado struck on Saturday in the city of Ichihara in Chiba prefecture, just across Tokyo Bay from Tokyo. A dozen houses were destroyed and more than 70 were damaged, reported weather.com.

Damage from tornado associated with Typhoon Hagibis, 10/13/19
Figure 1. An upturned car lies next to a partially destroyed house after being hit by a tornado shortly before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis on October 13, 2019 in Chiba prefecture, Japan. Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images.

Three of the top ten most damaging Japanese typhoons have occurred since 2018

Hagibis is certain to be a multi-billion-dollar disaster—the fourth such typhoon disaster in the past 14 months for Japan. According to inflation-adjusted damage estimates from Aon and EM-DAT, three of the top ten most damaging Japanese typhoons since 1950 have occurred since 2018:

Mireille, 1991, $19.1 billion
Jebi, 2018, $12.6 billion
Songda, 2004, $12.5 billion
Flo, 1990, $8.0 billion
Bart, 1999, $7.8 billion
Faxai, 2019, $7.0 billion
Vera, 1959, $5.3 billion (5098 deaths)
Sarah, 1986, $5.1 billion
Vicki, 1998, $4.8 billion
Trami, 2018, $4.6 billion

This list does not include the $10.2 billion flood disaster in southern Japan in July 2018, which was caused by the presence of a stationary seasonal frontal boundary enhanced by remnant moisture from Typhoon Prapiroon.

Climate change is likely increasing Japan’s typhoon risk

Hurricane scientists agree that typhoons in the Northwest Pacific are reaching their maximum intensities at a more northerly latitude than they used to, which has increased the typhoon risk to Japan. In a 2019 review paper by 11 hurricane scientists, Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change Assessment: Part I. Detection and Attribution, nine of 11 authors concluded that the balance of evidence suggested that human-caused climate change contributed to the observed poleward migration of more intense typhoons.

In the same study, ten of 11 authors concluded that the balance of evidence suggests that there is a detectable increase in the global average intensity of hurricane-strength tropical cyclones (including typhoons) since the early 1980s, and eight of 11 authors concluded that the balance of evidence suggests that human-caused climate change contributed to this increase in intensity.

We'll have a post later on Monday on tropical activity in the Atlantic, including the potential for a Cape Verde tropical depression unusually late in the year.

Dr. Jeff Masters co-wrote this post.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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Bob Henson

Bob Henson is a meteorologist and writer at weather.com, where he co-produces the Category 6 news site at Weather Underground. He spent many years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and is the author of “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change” and “Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology.”


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