Coastal Flood Advisory

Japanese Bullet Train Derails in Heavy Snow

By By Brian Edwards, Meteorologist
March 12, 2013, 9:44:32 AM EDT

A high-speed Japanese bullet train derailed in northern Japan on Saturday in heavy snow.

The train was carrying approximately 130 passengers and crew, though there are no reports of injuries at this time according to Japan's national broadcaster NHK.

The train was only traveling at about 20 kph at the time of the accident according to Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert, which only led to one car derailing.

According to Meteorologist Eric Wanenchak, the derailment occurred in the northwest part of Honshu, Japan, where sea-effect snow is common throughout the winter months.

Wanenchak said that significant snow squall activity has been reported over the last 12 hours per observations and Japan radar imagery.

The current snow depth in Akita prefecture (where the crash occurred) ranges from about 18 inches at the coast to 90 inches in the mountains to their east.

Both the snow on the ground and the snow squalls in the area could have contributed to the crash.

Not only was snow falling, but wind speeds were averaging 25-35 mph much of the day with a maximum gust of 58 mph, stated Wanenchek.

Visibilities were also reported between 1/4 and 1/2 mile in some squalls, which means that low visibility could have been a factor.

While the official cause of the derailment has yet to be determined, weather could have been a major factor.

According to The Global Post, East Japan Railway said on its website that bullet train services in the area of the crash had been suspended due to the heavy snow.

Akita prefecture is an extremely snowy part of Japan. A warm ocean current in the Sea of Japan, combined by cold continental air flowing over that water leads to "sea effect" snow squalls, similar to the lake effect that impact U.S. cities like Buffalo, Syracuse, and Chicago.

Some places in northwestern Honshu, Japan have close to 5 meters (16.4 feet) of snow pack due to this sea effect as well as regular winter storms. Meteorologists will update this story as more details become available.

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