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WHITE OUT
Hundreds of cars stuck in snow-hit Japan
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 16, 2014


Jet stream shift 'could prompt harsher winters'
Chicago (AFP) Feb 16, 2014 - A warmer Arctic could permanently affect the pattern of the high-altitude polar jet stream, resulting in longer and colder winters over North America and northern Europe, US scientists say.

The jet stream, a ribbon of high altitude, high-speed wind in northern latitudes that blows from west to east, is formed when the cold Arctic air clashes with warmer air from further south.

The greater the difference in temperature, the faster the jet stream moves.

According to Jennifer Francis, a climate expert at Rutgers University, the Arctic air has warmed in recent years as a result of melting polar ice caps, meaning there is now less of a difference in temperatures when it hits air from lower latitudes.

"The jet stream is a very fast moving river of air over our head," she said Saturday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"But over the past two decades the jet stream has weakened. This is something we can measure," she said.

As a result, instead of circling the earth in the far north, the jet stream has begun to meander, like a river heading off course.

This has brought chilly Arctic weather further south than normal, and warmer temperatures up north. Perhaps most disturbingly, it remains in place for longer periods of time.

The United States is currently enduring an especially bitter winter, with the midwestern and southern US states experiencing unusually low temperatures.

In contrast, far northern regions like Alaska are going through an unusually warm winter this year.

This suggests "that weather patterns are changing," Francis said. "We can expect more of the same and we can expect it to happen more frequently."

Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising "two to three times faster than the rest of the planet," said James Overland, a weather expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Francis says it is premature to blame humans for these changes.

"Our data to look at this effect is very short and so it is hard to get very clear signal," she said.

"But as we have more data I do think we will start to see the influence of climate change," she said.

- Dire impact on agriculture -

The meandering jet steam phenomenon, sometimes called "Santa's Revenge", remains a controversial idea.

"There is evidence for and against it," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snowland Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

But he said rising Arctic temperatures are directly linked to melting ice caps.

"The sea ice cover acts as a lid which separates the ocean from a colder atmosphere," Serreze told the conference.

But if the lid is removed, then warmth contained in the water rises into the atmosphere.

This warming trend and the shifting jet stream will have a dire impact on agriculture, especially in the farm-rich middle-latitudes in the United States.

"We are going to see changes in patterns of precipitation, of temperatures that might be linked to what is going on in the far north," said Serreze.

Jerry Hatfield, head of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment in the midwestern state of Iowa, warned that this is not a phenomenon that affects only the United States.

"Look around the world -- we produce the bulk of our crops around this mid-latitude area," he said.

The main impact on agriculture and livestock will not come from small temperature changes, but rather from temperature extremes and the weather patterns that hold them in place for longer periods of time.

Droughts and freezes are already having "a major impact on animal productivity, it influences meat production, milk and eggs production," he said.

Hundreds of cars are stuck on a hillside trunk road in Japan after it was hit by a snowstorm which is now heading north, officials said Sunday.

The snowstorm killed three people, grounded more than 100 flights and disrupted road and rail transport Friday and Saturday.

It is now moving northward, Japan's meteorological agency said Sunday, warning of heavy snow, storms and snowslides as well as high waves in eastern and northern Japan.

National Route 18 that runs through Gunma and Nagano prefectures north of Tokyo is partly closed as hundreds of cars are stuck due to heavy snow, a local official told AFP.

The congestion extends for several kilometres, said the official in the ski resort of Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture.

"We have opened up three community halls nearby for people who were inside the stuck cars, and are now preparing to offer hot meals," he said.

"Some drivers have run out of gasoline so they need temporary shelter."

Up to 250 cars are stuck on the road, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The temperature fell as low as minus 3.6 degrees Celsius (26 degree Fahrenheit) Sunday morning in Karuizawa, with accumulated snow about 90 centimetres (36 inches) deep, the weather agency said.

Congestion extended for 30 kilometres (19 miles) on National Route 4 that runs through the northern prefectures of Fukushima and Miyagi, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The transport ministry has started delivering emergency aid including water and portable toilets to drivers of stuck cars, it said.

Snow began falling Friday morning in the capital Tokyo and had piled up to 26 centimetres by early Saturday, a week after the heaviest snowfall in decades left 11 people dead and more than 1,200 injured across the nation.

Most snow in the capital had melted thanks to rain late Saturday and sunshine Sunday.

But forecasters predict more snow again in the region around Tokyo later this week.

More travel chaos in Japan as snow storm kills three
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 15, 2014 - Japan's road, rail and air travel services faced further disruptions Saturday, reports and officials said, after a fresh snow storm killed three people and injured 850 others following last week's deadly blizzard.

Snow began falling Friday morning in the capital Tokyo and piled up to 26 centimetres (10 inches) by early Saturday, a week after the heaviest snowfall in decades left at least 11 people dead and more than 1,200 injured across the nation.

A driver was killed Friday in a crash involving his car and a truck on an icy road in Shiga, central Japan, while a farmer died after a tractor overturned on a snow-covered road in southwestern Oita, local media said.

In a separate snow-related accident, a driver was killed and three others injured on an expressway in central Shizuoka, the news reports said.

Public broadcaster NHK said some 850 people, including one in a coma, have been injured in snow-related accidents across the nation since snow hit western Japan late Thursday.

Drivers were struggling to move their cars in the capital's residential district of Setagaya, while snow started melting and flooding some roads in downtown Tokyo.

Television footage showed hundreds of passengers resting on benches and floors under blankets at Haneda airport in Tokyo as public transport services were suspended due to heavy show.

At least 628 flights, mostly on domestic routes, were cancelled on Saturday at Haneda and other airports in eastern Japan, NHK said, a day after more than 260 flights were grounded due to heavy snow.

Two commuter trains collided at Motosumiyoshi station in Tokyo early Saturday leaving 19 passengers injured, officials said.

The accident occurred as train services were disrupted due to the storm but it was not immediately clear if the collision was directly related to the bad weather. Transport authorities are investigating the case.

The storm also caused delays and suspensions on the "shinkansen" bullet train services and the closure of a number of highways across the country.

Some 187,000 households lost power mainly in eastern Japan due to snow and strong winds, NHK said.

The meteorological agency continued warning of heavy snow in eastern Japan as well as strong winds and high waves along coastal areas, which may cause snowslides.

Last week, as much as 27 centimetres of snow was recorded in Tokyo, the capital's worst snowfall for 45 years.

While much of that snow had melted, the remains of larger piles as well as some slightly diminished snowmen were still in evidence across the city.

.


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