‘Least snow I’ve seen in my life’: climate change in Japan worries experts and tourism operators ~ This Week in Asia

The city of Sapporo is having to truck in snow for its annual festival, while some ski resorts have closed early in Hokkaido’s mildest winter on record

  • Experts say there are fears the changing climate could see more, larger typhoons and a lack of water in the summertime
The city of Sapporo has ordered trucks to carry in snow for its annual festival due to reduced snowfall. Photo: Kyodo
The city of Sapporo has ordered trucks to carry in snow for its annual festival due to reduced snowfall. Photo: Kyodo

 

Makoto Watanabe remembers snowdrifts that towered well above his head when he was a boy – and the thick coating of snow that blanketed his hometown of Otaru, on Japan’s most northerly island of Hokkaido, for months on end. Icicles taller than a man hung from the eaves of houses, and the wind that blew in from Siberia made his cheeks sting.

 

This winter, however, he said it hardly felt like winter had come at all. “This year has been the least snow that I have ever seen in my life,” said Watanabe, 45, a professor of communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

This is the very first winter that I felt that I could see climate change actually affecting Hokkaido Makoto Watanabe, Hokkaido Bunkyo University

“It has snowed a little this morning, but it is not settling everywhere and there are certainly none of the deep snowdrifts that we normally have all around Sapporo by this time in January,” he said.

“For me, this is the very first winter that I felt that I could see climate change actually affecting Hokkaido. I have not had to dig my car out of a drift yet. And the longer it goes on, the stranger it feels.”

It is not just Hokkaido that is experiencing the mildest winter on record, as temperatures the length and breadth of Japan are far higher than in a normal year and snowfall is far lower. Temperatures in Hokkaido have been 2.8 degrees warmer than average so far this winter.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the amount of snow in Hokkaido in December was 48 per cent of an average year and the lowest total for the month since records were first kept in 1961. On the northeast coast of Japan, which normally bears the brunt of cold-weather systems blowing in from northern China and Russia, snowfall is averaging 28 per cent of a typical year.

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