typhoon melor

08Oct09

Typhoon Melor blew through Japan last night, killing three people and injuring 64.  A few typhoons a year usually make their way to Japan, but for some reason the main force of the typhoons almost always seems to bypass the Osaka area where I live.  My very first experience with a typhoon warning came on the day of Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri festival.  My friend Richard and I were trying to decide how serious the typhoon warning was, and what the likelihood of Tenjin Matsuri being canceled might be.  As it turned out, there wasn’t a hint of a typhoon and Richard and I had a great time at Tenjin Matsuri.  After that, every time there was a typhoon warning there would — at most — be some strong winds and a little extra rain, but nothing to write home about, really.  The photograph above was taken during one of these mini-typhoons, but the wind looks a lot stronger than it actually was because of the long exposure time; in fact, all of the trains were running as normal and nobody was closing up shop and battening down the hatches.

I did have a pretty harrowing experience one time getting caught in a typhoon while riding the shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka.  The train came to a halt at one of the smaller shinkansen stations along the route and promptly parked there for four hours until the winds began to subside.  The woman next to me told me that one time she had been on the shinkansen when it had to be stopped during a typhoon and they ended up spending the night at the station.  “Hotel Shinkansen,” she called it.  Luckily our train didn’t become an impromptu hotel, but it did take over eight hours to get to Osaka rather than the usual two and a half.

Last night’s typhoon was definitely the real deal.  The strong winds began kicking up around midnight, and by two in the morning there was a general tumult of howling and clattering while huge gusts of wind literally shook the walls of the house.  I had to sleep with earplugs in to block out the sounds from outside, but even so the wind was so strong that sometimes I woke up because an exceptionally loud thump  or shake made itself known despite the earplugs.  At one point I decided to go out on the balcony (the lee side of the house) to watch the storm outside.  Through the grey of the night I could see the tall trees down at the local junior high school bending and swaying in the heavy wind, while sudden gusts shot through my back yard twisting the branches and vines in every direction.  What was intense about the bending trees and flying branches wasn’t the strength of the wind, but rather the speed of the forces involved and the rapidity with which they would change direction.  Standing on the balcony it was easy to feel the different pressures and densities of the winds as they moved over and between the houses, and it was easy to remember that air is a liquid with currents that can be as violent and dangerous as the most vicious ocean tides.  Alone on the balcony, in the middle of the night, it felt almost like my house was a ship, anchored in the vastness of the ocean, standing completely still in the middle of a tossing sea.

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