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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #247: September 9, 2004

Typhoon Songda Hammers Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Typhoon Songda Hammers Japan"
Channel News Asia


Hurricane and typhoon are meteorologically the same phenomenon, born in the tropical sea to the east of a continent, heads north as it grows, and changes course when it reaches the temperate zone, often causing harm to the peoples' lives along the way by its strong wind and rain. It is called a hurricane in the West Atlantic, and a typhoon in the West Pacific. The former hits the eastern coast of the US, as the latter hits the Japan archipelago.

Accordingly, while southeastern US was being beaten by the hurricane Francis, Japan was being attacked by typhoon Songda.

Songda, by the way, is a name of a river in Vietnam. A few years back, East Asian countries got together and agreed on a system of naming typhoons. As the typhoons tend to ignore country borders, it seemed more convenient for the countries in the region to give each typhoon a common name, in communication and cooperation with regard to exchanging information on their behaviors and possible threats. The naming follows a convention whereby the names provided by the participating countries in advance are used in a pre-set order. This was the Vietnam's turn.

In Japan, however, the convention never gained popularity, and the typhoons are called simply by numbers, in order of their emergence for the season. Thus the typhoon Songda, as it is referred to elsewhere, is called the 18th Typhoon in Japan.

This 18th typhoon (Songda) had several characteristics. It was exceptionally strong and huge, and most notably, its course was unique. It slowly passed over Okinawa, cutting through northern Kyushu to go out into the Japan Sea, and then it traveled along the coastline of Japan all the way to Hokkaido. The fact that it traveled mostly over the sea prevented it from losing its power - in fact it became stronger and larger again before reaching Hokkaido. It affected every region of Japan because it traveled along the coastline.

Significant number of observing stations recorded the strongest in history winds, notably in Hiroshima, where it recorded gusting winds at more than 60 meters per second - or more than 200 kilometers per hour - comparable to the speed of Shinkansen. The wind destroyed the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine near Hiroshima City, designated as a national treasure, and declared as a United Nations World Heritage Site.

At last count, the 18th Typhoon killed 32 people and 14 are reported missing. While sympathizing with the victims, the casualty is astonishingly small considering the circumstances. In fact, out of 46 killed and missing, 26 were crews aboard Indonesian and Cambodian freighters stranded and sank due to the weather. There are seven people dead or missing in Hokkaido, the northernmost island, where it was hit the hardest. Some comment that the people in Hokkaido were not used to severe typhoons as typhoons normally avoid the area or would subside by the time they get there. Could it be said that disaster prevention system has worked as planned? Perhaps yes, in terms of securing safety of the people, but the typhoon has left a tremendous damage, still being assessed, in various industrial, and more significantly, farm sectors.

This was the seventh typhoon landed on Japan this year, setting a new record. Indeed, Japan was just getting out of the record breaking hot summer. The term abnormal weather seems to have become a common expression in Japan, where being normal seems to be considered abnormal. People are wondering if this is an effect of on-going global warming.

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