A super typhoon in the Pacific Ocean could hit Japan on Saturday, potentially causing grave damage in Tokyo, experts said.
The center of Super Typhoon Hagibis was roughly 950 miles south of Tokyo as of Thursday morning local time, according to Brandon Bukunt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tiyan, Guam.
The storm was moving about 9 mph to the north, and expected to pass along the east coast of Japan on Saturday evening, he said. The fastest sustained winds of the storm, as estimated by satellites, were 160 mph, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane; a storm more than 150 mph is classified as a super typhoon.
The storm is expected to weaken, with winds at about 90 mph, as it approaches Japan. Bukunt predicted heavy rain there starting late Friday or early Saturday. The storm, he said, is expected to undergo “an extra-tropical transition” in the following days and become a large storm in the Bering Sea.
“It will impact the West Coast of even the U.S. with large surf, and Hawaii as well,” he said.
NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, reported that officials were urging residents to prepare for potentially severe weather, including dangerous storm surges.
Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with the magazine Scientific American, said that if Hagibis proceeds as predicted, it could become one of the most damaging typhoons in Japanese history.
“If it hits Tokyo Bay like some of the current forecasts are saying, then it’s going to be a multibillion dollar disaster,” Masters said.
Last year, Jebi, the worst typhoon in 25 years, killed 11 people, injured hundreds, and caused an estimated $12.6 billion in damage. It prompted government evacuation orders for about 49,000 people, with many more advised to flee.
An increasing number of strong storms and greater rainfall are generally linked to global warming. Masters said that scientists have found that typhoons in the Northwest Pacific are reaching their maximum intensities farther north than they used to, increasing the risk to Japan. In a recent review paper by 11 hurricane scientists, nine of them concluded that the evidence suggests that human-caused climate change contributed to the migration, he noted.
Typhoon Hagibis, which means speed in Tagalog, could also interfere with two key matches of the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in Japan. France and England were scheduled to play Saturday, and Scotland and Japan on Sunday. Tournament officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The term typhoon is used for storms that develop in the northwestern Pacific and usually threaten Asia. Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are actually all the same thing — low-pressure circular storm systems with winds more than 74 mph, that form over warm water — but different terms are used around the world.