A change in the sound of the rain made me look out of my window to find that hailstones were pelting the balcony. Scooping up a handful of white pellets, I imagined the coldness of the air high up in the sky.
I found out later that the hailstones in my cupped hands were just a peripheral sign of an extreme weather event in the Kanto region at the time. On the last day of the Golden Week holidays, a tornado struck Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture and Mooka in Tochigi Prefecture. The twister killed one teenager, injured more than 50 people, and damaged more than 1,500 buildings. It was one of the most destructive tornadoes that has ever hit Japan.
When a moist, warm air mass from the south pushed into the lower part of the atmosphere in the Kanto region, the difference in temperature with the air above generated an updraft. This in turn caused the formation of massive cumulonimbus clouds, which produced the killer tornado, along with hailstorms and thunderstorms.
The twister hurled people's property into the air like a fierce dragon bent on destruction.
In the United States, the Midwest states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri lie in what is sometimes called “tornado alley.” Many homes there have basements that can be used as tornado shelters.
In terms of the incidence of tornadoes per square mile, however, I understand that the Kanto Plain is not much safer.
"Hojoki" (An Account of My Hut), which was written 800 years ago by Kamo no Chomei (1155-1216), contains this account of a twister that ravaged Kyoto one spring: "While the twister traveled three or four city blocks, people huddled in their homes, but not one home, whether large or small, was spared damage."
Like earthquakes and tsunami, tornadoes have always caught people unawares and altered their lives. Natural disasters have left their mark on human civilization.
During the Golden Week holidays, tragic accidents claimed the lives of middle-aged and older mountain climbers. During this season of fickle weather, the mountains and the flat fields can both be equally unsafe.
We humans are helpless creatures that can neither fly nor swim to safety when Mother Nature bares her fangs.
—The Asahi Shimbun, May 8
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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