Monday, 30 May 2011

Typhoon Songda Nearing Tokyo Weakens to ’Extratropical Cyclone’

By Masumi Suga - May 29, 2011 4:46 PM GMT+0800

Typhoon Songda, the storm last week forecast to pass over Japan’s stricken nuclear plant, weakened to an "extratropical cyclone" after its forecast trajectory earlier moved south of Fukushima prefecture.

The storm was moving at a speed of 55 kilometers per hour (34 miles per hour) at 3:50 p.m. local time, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on its website. The eye of the storm was about 80 kilometers south-southwest of Murotomisaki, part of Japan’s Shikoku island west of Tokyo, and moving northeast at 65 kilometers an hour at 2:40 p.m., the agency said.

The U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center’s forecast graphic last week projected the possibility that the storm may pass over the plant, which spewed radiation after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems and left three of six reactor buildings with no roofs after explosions. Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant, said last week it was still considering typhoon measures and that it couldn’t announce detailed plans.

Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman for the utility known as Tepco, said it plans to complete the installation of covers for the buildings by October.

Songda, which strengthened to a supertyphoon after battering the Philippines, weakened to a Category 3 storm from Category 5 as it passed Taiwan on May 28. The typhoon’s path also shifted south compared with the earlier projections, lowering the risk of heavy rain or winds affecting the nuclear plant.

Regularly Buffeted

Japan is regularly buffeted by typhoons and tropical storms during the northwestern Pacific cyclone season. In 2004, eight cyclones passed over or skirted the country’s Tohoku region, where the Fukushima station is located, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The earliest was in May that year. The eyes of two storms passed within 300 kilometers of Tohoku last year, the agency’s data show.

Songda, the name of a branch of the Red River in Vietnam, is the fourth storm to form over northwest Pacific this year. The storm lashed the Philippines as it passed the eastern seaboard, leaving one person dead, according to the country’s disaster council. Songda prompted evacuations of coastal areas and caused flooding that jammed traffic and stranded travelers.

Damage to crops was “very minimal” as most had been harvested before the storm passed, Philippine Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told reporters March 27.

The U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center classifies storms as supertyphoons when their maximum sustain winds reach at least 150 miles per hour, according to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.