Typhoon Neoguri reached sustained winds of over 150 miles per hour Sunday, making it a ‘super typhoon,’ as it continued to gain force and approach Japan’s southern and western islands. It is likely to cause heavy rains and strong winds across much of Japan, and threaten at least two nuclear power plants in its path.
Heavy rains from another storm have already been setting records in Kyushu, Japan’s southern and southwestern-most major island, where Neoguri is likely to make first landfall. Kyushu is home to two nuclear plants, which have been shut down for safety in advance of the storm’s arrival. A nuclear plant on nearby Shikoku island has been shut down for safety, as well. After making landfall, the storm is expected to move north through virtually all of Japan, losing strength as it travels up the island.
Fukushima, in the east, is likely to be spared. The 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi plant focused attention on the vulnerability of nuclear plants, as radioactive water continued leaking for over a year after a tsunami and earthquake hit. Tokyo is also likely to miss Neoguri’s worst.
Japan Meteorological Agency warned that Neoguri would be an “extremely intense” storm by Tuesday, and issued emergency warnings for the southern islands, calling the super typhoon a “once in decades storm.” While powerful and dangerous, Neoguri will not be as strong as Typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands, left hundreds of thousands homeless and caused a major humanitarian crisis in the Philippines last year. Haiyan may have had the strongest sustained cyclone winds on record, at 195 mph.
Neoguri is currently as strong as a category 4 hurricane and it appears likely to hit Kyushu as a category 3, with winds between 111 and 130 mph.
Though the occurrence of a particular typhoon can’t be linked directly to climate change, a warmer climate can make storms much more destructive. Mr. Michel Jarraud, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, said Typhoon Haiyan “tragically demonstrated” the “heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding” from global warming. As climate change contributes to accelerated sea level rise along the U.S. East Coast, scientists warn that storm surges and coastal flooding will become more destructive, as was demonstrated in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
While the current projected path has Neoguri missing Okinawa, it will pass close enough to cause hurricane-force winds on the island. Okinawa has a major U.S. military presence, including dozens of military bases and thousands of service members and their families. Okinawa is already experiencing heavy rain and winds, and it is expected to get worse. In a statement on the air base’s website, Brig. Gen James Hecker, 18th Wing commander at Kadena Air Base called Neoguri the most dangerous typhoon to hit Okinawa in 15 years. “I can’t stress enough how dangerous this typhoon may be when it hits Okinawa,” he said. “This is not just another typhoon.”