Surviving Typhoons in Japan
We’re nearing the end of the official typhoon season here in Japan and I’m here to relate my experiences with them, as well as offer some advice from a native sunny-southern-Californian on how to safely weather them if you're like me and you’ve never seen anything more than an inch of rain falling throughout a whole day (or as a refresher for those who’ve seen them before and just want some reminding).
In the United States, these storms are called hurricanes and are classified in Categories 1-5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 consisting of some of the strongest storms on Earth. Typhoons are classified as either Typhoons, Severe Typhoons, or Super Typhoons with the Super Typhoons comparable to strong Category 4 hurricanes and up. The main season for typhoons in Japan is generally May through October, with August and September being the peak season, though they can form any month of the year.
Super Typhoon Vongfong passed over eastern Japan last night (Oct. 13-14) and I can honestly say that I have never heard wind scream like that in my life! It was intense (did I mention there was also an earthquake in the middle of this madness?)! The whole building was shaking and the windows were rattling--I thought for sure something would come crashing through my windows and I was lamenting the lack of an interior room with no windows in my apartment.
But for all that, the power stayed on, my windows are whole, and when I walked outside this morning the sky was clear, the ground sparkling with rain water, and the sun was illuminating the world with its golden glow. It was honestly one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve seen here, and there have been some pretty spectacular ones!
I’ve been fascinated with Earth Science and Meteorology for as long as I can remember--storms in particular interest me and some of my fondest memories are of watching lightning storms with my parents out our kitchen window when my family still lived in Arizona. Storm and disaster preparedness also feature high on my interest list and here is what I know and have been told about typhoon preparedness as well as what to do before, during and after a big storm.
Build a kit. I always have fun with this when I move to a new place. I find the nearest dollar store and stock up on flashlights, batteries, candles, first aid supplies (being clumsy I have to refresh these rather often…), water, canned and nonperishable foods (canned tuna, peanut butter, and cookies/crackers are always in my cupboards), a battery-powered radio, and wet wipes. They’re not all in one place like experts recommend but I know where they all are and can get what I need quickly. I also have a stash of cash I can use in case I can’t get to an ATM (also useful in Japan as ATM’s can close rather early, and despite popular belief I do occasionally go out at night sometimes). Just remember to replace it as soon as you can.
Know where the emergency evacuation shelters in your area are. I got a list when I moved in from my company, but almost all schools and city buildings also serve as evacuation centers. Look for this sign at the entrance (often it’s more visible than the school name) and know several ways to get to them and how long it will take to get to each.
Know how to turn off the gas to your apartment if it’s not an automatic shut-down, know where your main electricity breaker is, and know where the water line is and if you can turn off the water to your apartment if there is a break. It will be a lot easier to stay calm in the moment if you have even a little bit of a plan beforehand.
A STORM IS COMING
Bring in anything off your balcony or patio that could be blown away. I take down my laundry pole and clothes pins as well as bring in some smaller plants that I don’t want blown over or away. Make sure you can live without electricity or gas for about three days. You never know what that storm will hit and you don’t want to be stuck with food that can only be eaten cooked when you have no means of cooking it. Also keep bottled water and, if it's going to be a bad one, fill up your tub and/or sinks with water in case the water lines are down and you need drinking water and a way to stay clean.
Secure or bring in bikes (mine stays under the building staircase), park your car where there is little chance of flooding and away from trees and branches that could fall and damage it. Get some entertainment that requires no electricity, just in case. There’s nothing worse than being hungry and bored! Charge all your electronics like your phone, laptop, iPod, etc. so you can use them if needed. Turn your refrigerator on high and keep the door closed in case the power goes out.Fill large containers or bathtubs with water, and if you freeze zip-loc bags of water they will keep your food cool and give you water when they melt.
THE STORM IS HERE
Don’t go anywhere! Please sit tight as much as possible until the storm is over--the chances of you being injured or worse are far less if you stay home and out of the elements. If you see debris start flying, stay away from windows and go to the most interior part of your apartment/house. Keep informed, listen to the radio, or go on the internet while available. Listen to watches and warnings given by authorities. English weather reports in the Kanto area can be heard on AM 810, the US military station. The Japan Meteorological Agency also has an English website with typhoon watch information among other things like earthquake information, tsunamis, volcanic information etc. And don't forget to marvel at the power of nature!
THE STORM HAS PASSED
Be careful of debris or fallen power lines, always assume they are live! Don’t cross running water--6 inches can knock you off your feet and 12 inches can sweep away your car. For real. It also always looks shallower than it is, so just don’t. I totally made this mistake this year and wound up almost flooding my poor little box car. Luckily for me, it was standing water but it was still a dumb move. Clean up your area and help others do the same. Community is important after storms, they’ll appreciate the offer! Checking on elderly neighbors or neighbors with little kids is also a good way to make friends and solidify your spot in the community (as well as being the right thing to do). Potentially save a life people!
**Note: Some schools will cancel classes for typhoons, so call your branch to check if your school has done so. Interac will usually email you before you are due to go in--you can call to check if you want, but usually if you have no email assume school is continuing as normal. It takes quite a storm to cancel school here, I have school today and we just had a super typhoon!
Basically use your common sense during severe weather and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your home country. I personally enjoy watching Mother Nature be super fierce and I have learned how to do so safely. Typhoons can be a fun day off of work or serious disasters. Be prepared, follow instructions, and it’s more likely to be the first!