Snowstorm in Tokyo disrupts road, rail and air transport

A man making his way through heavy snow near the Imperial Palace, on Jan 22, 2018.
A man making his way through heavy snow near the Imperial Palace, on Jan 22, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS
Tourists posing in the snow in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on Jan 22, 2018.
Tourists posing in the snow in front of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, on Jan 22, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
People walk on the grounds of the Imperial Palace during a snow fall in Tokyo, Japan, on Jan 22, 2018.
People walk on the grounds of the Imperial Palace during a snow fall in Tokyo, Japan, on Jan 22, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Pedestrians crossing a street during a snowstorm in central Tokyo on Jan 22, 2018.
Pedestrians crossing a street during a snowstorm in central Tokyo on Jan 22, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A rare snowstorm hit Tokyo on Monday (Jan 22), snarling train services, forcing the cancellation of scores of flights and prompting hordes of workaholic Japanese to heed official advice to head home early.

Snow began falling on Monday morning, with as much as 10cm predicted for central Tokyo by the time it is expected to stop early on Tuesday.

By 5pm local time, 6 cm had fallen in central Tokyo, as the snowfall intensified, national broadcaster NHK said.

Train services were curtailed and some highways were closed, as icy roads were causing traffic accidents.

Around 250 flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport were cancelled.

“It’s really a pity the flight was cancelled earlier in the day, as I’ve travelled here using paid holidays,” one woman told the NHK. “I never thought I’d see snow in Tokyo,” said another woman.

About 50 cars got stuck and unable to move on the “Rainbow Bridge” on Tokyo’s waterfront. About 200 passengers were evacuated from the “Yurikamome” train carriages that were unable to go up a slope due to the snow, NHK said.

A looming low pressure system and cold front just off the coast of the Japanese main island of Honshu was expected to bring low temperatures and more snow throughout the day and night, the Japanese Meteorological Agency said.

The Japanese capital, which is on roughly the same latitude as the US city of Raleigh, North Carolina, often sees snow at least once a year, but this time it is expected to accumulate, rather than quickly melt as it usually does.

The government issued heavy snow warnings for the area around the capital, just two weeks after hundreds of people were trapped overnight in a train in northern Japan due to heavy snow.

NHK national broadcaster issued detailed recommendations for coping with the weather, including wearing boots with heavy treads, heading home early and not walking with hands in coat pockets in case of slips and falls.

Trains to the suburbs were packed full by the unusually early hour of 4pm and long lines formed at supermarkets. NHK reported that universities had postponed entrance exams due to have been held on Tuesday morning.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco) called for households and corporations to save power as electricity demand rises when the temperature falls.

A disaster management centre in the prime minister’s office was collating information on the situation.

“We will respond to this based on various scenarios,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

“We call on all citizens to keep informed about the latest conditions and beware of transport delays.”