Tuesday, 14 October 2014

At least two dead as Typhoon Vongfong crosses Japan.

Two people have been confirmed dead and about 100 more have been injured after Typhoon Vongfong passed over the Tohoku Region of Japan on Tuesday 14 October 2014. The two fatalities have been described as males aged 72 and 90, both of whom appear to have drowned. The storm also caused about 30 injuries as it passed over the island of Okinawa on Sunday 12 October. The typhoon caused a storm surge which is reported to have led to widespread flooding, particularly around the city of Kesennuma, where the ground level was lowered by the 2011 Earthquake, and about 800 000 people were advised to leave their homes ahead of the storm, though no mandatory evacuation was organised. Around 150 000 homes have reportedly been left without electricity.

Damage caused by Typhoon Vongfong in Kagoshima. Yomiuri Shimbun.

Tropical storms are caused by solar energy heating the air above the oceans, which causes the air to rise leading to an inrush of air. If this happens over a large enough area the in rushing air will start to circulate, as the rotation of the Earth causes the winds closer to the equator to move eastwards compared to those further away (the Coriolis Effect). This leads to tropical storms rotating clockwise in the southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere.These storms tend to grow in strength as they move across the ocean and lose it as they pass over land (this is not completely true: many tropical storms peter out without reaching land due to wider atmospheric patterns), since the land tends to absorb solar energy while the sea reflects it.

The path of and strength of Typhoon Vongfong to date. Tropical Storm Risk.

The low pressure above tropical storms causes water to rise there by ~1 cm for every millibar drop in pressure, leading to a storm surge that can overwhelm low-lying coastal areas, while at the same time the heat leads to high levels of evaporation from the sea - and subsequently high levels of rainfall. This can cause additional flooding on land, as well as landslides, which are are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall.

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