Today when I woke up, it was hot and sunny. It didn’t seem possible that twelve hours ago, the biggest typhoon in sixty years was raging through Tokyo. So I went out to take a look at one of the places that had been evacuated – a neighborhood next to the Tama River.
The top map (below) is what the sleepy Tama-gawa is usually like – a narrow band of water, lined with parks and soccer fields, picnic grounds and baseball diamonds. On the bottom is how it looked during the typhoon. The river spread out to its farthest banks, and then some, flooding basement apartments and shops along the street that runs alongside it.
Reuters just published these astounding satellite shots of Tokyo* before and after the typhoon. I made them into an overlaid video (alternating between before and after) and marked where this area is, so you can see what it actually looked like from above:
And here are the zoomed-in areas that are marked with circles in the above photo:
I found a few pictures of the area on the net, and although they’re not taken from the same angle, you can get the idea of how much the place changed after Typhoon Hagibis had its little rampage.
But the typhoon clouds did have one silver lining: only in the aftermath of a heckin’ huge typhoon, can kids go FISHING in sidewalk puddles.
Oh, and guess what? I learned something new. I kept reassuring people that even though it looked scary on the weather maps, Hagibis wasn’t a hurricane, it was just a typhoon. Which I think of as a rainstorm that didn’t skip leg day at the gym.
But I was wrong! Turns out, the only difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is that hurricanes originate in the North Atlantic, and typhoons originate in the Northwest Pacific. Cyclones (I’ll tell you for free), are the same storm, but hail from the South Pacific and mostly wreak havoc in that other hemisphere.
And therein lies a nugget of useful wisdom amid this spectacularly Instagrammable disaster: most of the time, being in the middle of something that looks like the end of the world isn’t like that at all. Even the biggest typhoon to hit Tokyo in sixty years just felt like a heavy rainstorm with a side of annoying wind. The only hardship 99.9% of us in the big city suffered is that we had to soldier through without our iced lattes.
* Reuters credits Planet Labs Inc. for the satellite photos
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Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!