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Military deployed after record snowfall strands more than 2 000 vehicles in Japan

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The snow was falling at an unprecedented rate over parts of Japan this week, stranding more than 2 000 vehicles and forcing authorities to deploy the military to help trapped people. In addition, more than 10 000 homes were left without electricity. JMA said that heavy snow will continue to fall through the weekend, mainly in areas on the Sea of Japan coast.

As many as 2 100 vehicles were stranded on the Kanetsu Expressway, which connects capital Tokyo and Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, on Thursday, December 17, 2020, after the season's most powerful cold air mass brought unusually heavy snow to wide swaths of Japan since Wednesday, December 16.

The line of cars at one point stretched up to 16.5 km (10 miles).

Toru Obata, East Nippon Expressway president, said some people have been taken to hospital after feeling unwell, while apologizing to those who are still stranded. Food, fuel, blankets and portable toilets were distributed to drivers of stuck vehicles, he said.

670 to 1 000 vehicles remained stuck on Friday, December 18. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said more than 10 000 households lost power in Niigata, stretching across the Sea of Japan coast, and Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan, among other places, Kato said.

On Wednesday, December 16, meteorologists said the snow was falling at an unprecedented rate due to the combination of unseasonably cold Siberian air and unseasonably warm ocean temperatures.

​Sea effect snow — December 16, 2020. Credit: JMA/Himawari-8, RAMMB/CIRA, TW

In 72 hours to 08:00 LT on December 17, Minakami in Gunma Prefecture received a record 217 cm (7.1 feet) of snow, while Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture saw over 180 cm (5.9 feet). In just 24 hours, parts of Gunma recorded 128 cm (4.2 feet) of snow and Niigata 113 cm (3.7 feet) of snow.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said that heavy snow will continue to fall on Friday and through the weekend, mainly in areas on the Sea of Japan coast. Officials are warning of possible traffic disruptions, avalanches, snow sliding off roofs, and snow accumulation leading to downed power lines and trees.

In 24 hours through Saturday evening (LT), about 80 cm (1.9 feet) of snowfall is expected in Niigata, 60 cm (1.9 feet) in Tohoku, and 50 cm (1.6 feet) in northern Kanto, Nagano Prefecture, and the Sea of Japan side of Hokkaido.

Featured image credit: NST

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