Devastating rainstorms and blistering temperatures have Japanese authorities fretting over the next Summer Olympics and how to keep athletes and attendees safe as climate scientists predict a possible repeat.
A heat wave with temperatures reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit has scorched Japan this week, following deadly floods earlier this month that unleashed landslides onto hill-perched homes. The heat persisted yesterday, colliding with celebrations marking the two-year countdown to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Behind the pageantry surrounding recent announcements about the Olympic torch relay and details about opening day mascots were concerns about dangerous summer weather. Organizers are now soliciting ideas for keeping spectators and participants cool should the games arrive in the midst of another brutal summer.
The worst flooding in decades on three of Japan’s four main islands is being followed by record-breaking temperatures. The stifling conditions are impeding recovery efforts in western Japan, where over 200 people were killed when torrential rainfall swelled rivers and sent rock and mudslides from steep hills crashing into homes. Thousands remain in shelters.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) is urging caution as survivors and volunteers face the risk of heat stroke. Temperatures reached 100 F or more in Okayama, Ehime and Hiroshima prefectures, the areas hardest hit by the July storms and flooding.
Hospitalizations from heat stroke or heat-related illnesses continue to rise. At least 1,800 were admitted to hospitals across the country, while eight deaths have been reported, according to the national broadcaster NHK. Most of the victims are elderly people who lack air conditioning or fans.
Japan’s abnormally hot weather is expected to last through the week, at least.
Record highs of 105 F was felt in Saitama prefecture. That’s the highest recorded temperature in Japan. Temperatures in Tokyo rose above 104 F for the first time ever this week. Regions throughout western and eastern Japan have been experiencing days of 100 F heat. Only the far north of the country has been spared the heat wave.
The high summer temperatures more common for southern Arizona are unprecedented for Japan, and the nation’s famous humidity is adding to its citizens’ woes.
“The heat wave will continue, reaching 40 degrees [Celsius],” Motoaki Takekawa of JMA said during a press conference. That’s about 104 F. “This heat can be recognized as a life-threatening emergency.”
The heat and rainstorms are also indicative of climate change, experts say.
“It is too early to attribute the extreme precipitation or the extreme heat to climate change,” said Clare Nullis of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “But especially as far as the extreme heat is concerned, this is in line with what we would expect from climate change trends.”
A forecast by JMA published earlier this year warned that over the next 100 years, Japan could expect higher average temperatures and precipitation across the country. Japan’s average summer temperatures have already risen, the JMA report says, and by the end of the century, they could rise by another 3 C.
Higher rates of precipitation will increasingly arrive in the form of heavy rainfall, the report predicts, as higher temperatures reduce snow cover.
The one thing government modeling can’t say for sure is whether Japan will be hit by more typhoons in the future as a result of climate change, JMA says. The southernmost reaches of the country have already experienced two storms this summer. A third is projected to make a pass just off the country’s northeast tomorrow and Friday.
“As a result of rising ocean temperatures in the tropics of the north Atlantic Ocean, since the 1970s tropical low pressure activity [hurricanes] has been increasing,” JMA said. “However ... we cannot tell whether the number of formed typhoons approaching or landing on Japan will tend to increase or decrease over the long term.”
The weather is encouraging officials to take unusual measures. There’s been strange reports, including public swimming pools being closed because the water is too warm.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government is looking into extending summer break for schoolchildren. Many public schools here lack air conditioning.
Japan’s ongoing heat wave is one of several record-high temperature events occurring globally. A series of immobile high-pressure systems have settled over much of the Northern Hemisphere, raising thermometers to new highs in North America, Europe and Asia.
WMO says the world’s “highest low temperature”—the highest overnight low temperature—was likely achieved at a location on the coast of Oman in late June, when the night passed without the thermometer dropping below 108 F.
WMO has also been monitoring a heat wave sweeping South Korea “as a number of daily temperature records were broken.” Hot and dry conditions are expected to persist in northern Europe until early August. And meteorologists continue to watch conditions in Canada, where high temperatures and humidity contributed to dozens of deaths in Quebec.
These conditions aren’t being experienced everywhere. Southern Europe is seeing lower-than-average temperatures and higher rates of precipitation than usual. Northern Japan has just passed through an unusually cool spring and early summer.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.